Comforts were few and far between for the soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War I. And there’s frankly nothing that says home like a warm piece of fried dough — at least, thats what the ladies of the Salvation Army reckoned.
Evangeline Booth, daughter of Salvation Army founder William Booth, began a National War Board at the outset of World War I to ensure the welfare of American soldiers. In 1917, she called upon Lt. Col. William Barker to assess what soldiers needed abroad, and he reportedly asked her to “send over some lassies.”
Booth set to work and the organization set up canteens run primarily by women that offered baked goods and warm drink to those at the front lines. But they quickly realized that traditional pastry-making in the midst of combat with limited resources was not exactly feasible.
Two Salvation Army volunteers, Ensigns Margaret Sheldon and Helen Purviance, who were stationed with the 1st Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, opted for a simpler (and frankly more delicious) option: doughnuts.
“With only flour, sugar, lard, baking powder, cinnamon and canned milk at their disposal, it was agreed that they would make and serve Doughnuts,” according to records from the World War I Centennial Commission. “The dough was patted into shape by hand and fried, seven at a time, in a small pan. The tempting fragrance of frying doughnuts drew the homesick soldiers to the hut and they lined up in the rain waiting for a taste.”
And who can blame them?
With scores of flavors, icings, and fillings to choose from, doughnuts have since become a staple American breakfast food and in recent years have even entered the zeitgeist as a popular wedding dessert.
“The simple doughnut became a symbol of all the Salvation Army was doing to ease the hardships of the front line fighting men,” records noted. And “The American Expeditionary Force was nicknamed ‘The Doughboys.’”
As a result of the lassies’ efforts, the Salvation Army named the first Friday in June “National Doughnut Day.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.