Don’t you just sometimes crave the homey taste of your mother’s stew or maybe her freshly-baked cookies that give your house a lovely smell of comfort and familiarity? That’s exactly what the soldiers of World War II felt, too. So to boost the morale of these American troops who were longing for the familiar smell of home, the Donut Dollies came to work. They were a group of female Red Cross volunteers who traveled with the US soldiers during WWII to ensure that they could get the comfort of freshly-baked donuts wherever they were.

Standards Higher Than the Military

The history of “women who fried donuts and dodged bombs on the front lines” started in 1917, which was pretty casual and chill during World War I. Things kind of evolved from there during the Second World War. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, aside from supplying aid to the wounded soldiers, the Red Cross also wanted to help boost their morale, and the Donut Dollies idea came. This time, however, the American Red Cross sought out a very exclusive group of ladies to take the role that experts think their standards for the female volunteers were even higher than the actual military standard.

Cover of the Salvation Army Magazine “War Cry,” November 9, 1918, depicting “Doughnut Dollies”- American volunteers serving in France.
(Salvation Army “War Cry” magazine, November 9, 1918, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The women had to be at least 25 years old, college-educated, capable of providing recommendation letters and pass the physical exams. More importantly, they also had to have outstanding personalities. The admission was tough, and only one out of six applicants were accepted for the role.

Before she could fry her first donut, the Donut Dollie should first get immunization shots, get fitter for Red Cross uniforms, and then undergo several weeks of basic training in the history, policies, and procedures not only of the Red Cross but also the US Army. She would also learn the very specific dress code: no earrings, hair ornaments, “brilliant nail polish,” or excessive makeup.

Once she completed all that, only then would she be sent overseas to operate a “Clubmobile” or a mobile army clubhouse that could travel directly to soldiers who were stationed at far bases or camps. The single-decker green buses were complete with everything that Donut Dollies needed to make fresh donuts right in front of the soldiers craving some sweet treats.

Demand for the Clubmobiles

In the beginning, the Doughnut Corporation of America loaned the Red Cross more than 450 of their donut machines that could yield around 48 dozen donuts each per hour. As the war progressed, it was not just the demand for ammunition that increased but for the donuts too, and the machines could not keep up with it. The Red Cross was forced to erect a handful of centralized bakeries to keep the Clubmobiles stocked. According to a 1944 report, around 205 women were able to serve a whopping 4.6 million of these sweet rings to the British soldiers.

Women standing in front of the American Red Cross Clubmobile in England. 1940. (Getty Images via allthatsinteresting.com)

The Clubmobiles were not exclusive to donuts. They were also stocked with magazines, cigarettes, chewing gums, and newspapers, which gave the soldiers a sense of normalcy and helped alleviate homesickness. If these were still not enough, they also equipped the buses with speakers so they could play music out loud for those who could not visit recreation clubs in cities.

More Than Just Serving Donuts

The job was not all flour and sugar because the Donut Dollies also faced challenges. As Jean Christie, one of the Dollies, confessed,

It wasn’t easy being a Donut Dollie. Some people thought we were just there to tease men. We were wrong, or bad, because we were over there. If you got pregnant, it was your fault, you asked for it.

Their lives were also at risk, too. In fact, three of them died during their time serving in Vietnam: Hannah Crews, who died in a Jeep accident; Virginia Kirsch, who was murdered by a US soldier while high on drugs; and Lucinda Richter, who died from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a degenerative nerve disease.

Although serving donuts didn’t sound like a huge thing during those times, the Donut Dollies undoubtfully also risked their lives and showed selflessness to help in the war effort.

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