A Hole-some Treat

Poster advertising the Salvation Army "lassies." 1918. Prints and Photographs Division.

Poster advertising the Salvation Army “lassies.” 1918. Prints and Photographs Division.

Doughnuts are as quintessential to America as apple pie. Who hasn’t happily licked glaze off his or her fingers or made a mess with powdered sugar? If there were never to be a Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, LaMar’s or neighborhood mom-and-pop bakery, life as we know it would be a less cheery place … these are calories many of us don’t mind.

So it should come as no surprise that a holiday has been set aside to celebrate these fried confections. National Doughnut Day is the first Friday in June (today!) and actually honors the Salvation Army “Lassies” of World War I.

The original Salvation Army doughnut was first served by the nonprofit organization in 1917. During WWI, the lassies were sent to the front lines of Europe, where they made home-cooked foods and provided a morale boost to the troops. Two Salvation Army volunteers – Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance – came up with the idea of providing doughnuts. Sheldon wrote of one busy day: “Today I made 22 pies, 300 doughnuts, 700 cups of coffee.” Often, the doughnuts were cooked in oil poured into a soldier’s metal helmet.

National Doughnut Day started in 1938 as a fundraiser for the Chicago Salvation Army. Its goal was to help the needy during the Great Depression and to honor the Salvation Army Lassies of World War I, who were the only women outside of military personnel allowed to visit the front lines.

Sylvia Coney, a canteen worker from New York, serves doughnuts on the Italian front. 1917 or 1918. Prints and Photographs Division.

Sylvia Coney, a canteen worker from New York, serves doughnuts on the Italian front. 1917 or 1918. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library’s collections are full of interesting and obscure items on the breakfast treat. A 1918 Cleveland Advocate newspaper article in The African-American Experience in Ohio presentation states that a “search through the American expeditionary force fails to disclose any man who sees nothing to the doughnut but the hole.”

“Don’t forget the Salvation Army, always remember my doughnut girl,” sings the chorus of 1919 song sheet that can be found in the Historical American Sheet Music presentation.

An excerpt from Horatio Nelson Taft’s diary, written Feb. 21, 1862, alludes to the fact that his wife is frying doughnuts in the kitchen at the time of the writing.

The Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog also has historical images featuring donuts. Simply searching for the term there and in American Memory should satisfy your scholarly sweet tooth.

3 Comments

  1. Linda Davis
    June 5, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Here’s to the lassies! Who knew? Now that I know it’s doughnut day, I will indulge and spread the word of the brave women whose simple treat made a major difference–thanks for posting!

  2. Mim Harrison
    June 5, 2015 at 11:38 am

    What a charming blog! When I saw the subject line of the email (“A Hole-some Treat”), I thought, could the Library of Congress possibly be talking about doughnuts? How wonderful that you are–because, of course, only the Library can educate us on doughnuts the way you have. I’m tempted to go out now and get a jelly-filled one with a mountain of powdered sugar….

  3. Jane
    June 5, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Erin, this is a great piece. I am a history buff and this is the first tidbit on the Salvation Army’s tie to this favorite delicacy that I’ve seen. Thank you for sharing.

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