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National Doughnut Day: Music to Eat By

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Happy National Doughnut Day! You may be ready to cash in for a free treat at your local doughnut shop, but are you familiar with the history behind this fun tradition? It stretches all the way back to World War I, when The Salvation Army decided that US soldiers overseas would benefit from the creation of huts near military training centers. These huts were for the large part staffed by women who would provide the men with writing supplies, sewing services, and baked goods – specifically, doughnuts. The Salvation Army started fundraising campaigns as the popularity of doughnuts expanded, and eventually National Doughnut Day took shape.

"My Doughnut Girl" by Robert Bertrand Brown and Elmore Leffingwell, 1915. Music Division, Library of Congress.
“My Doughnut Girl” by Robert Bertrand Brown and Elmore Leffingwell, 1915. Music Division, Library of Congress.

There is, of course, plenty of documentation of this history to be found in the Music Division’s collections. Robert Bertrand Brown and Elmore Leffingwell’s “My Doughnut Girl” (registered for copyright in January 1919) celebrates the women who fed doughnuts to the WWI soldiers, referencing them in the chorus as “Doughnut lassies,” as they were called at the time. Just 10 months later in November, the same composer and lyricist team published another song with William Frisch and James Lucas added to the credits – “Don’t Forget the Salvation Army (My Doughnut Girl).” While the cover images are similar in design, the two are entirely different songs. While the first piece was published by The Salvation Army, it is the second piece of music that features the organization’s seal and identifies the music as “The only song ever officially recognized and adopted by The Salvation Army.”

Leo Friedman, an American composer best known for his popular waltz “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” wrote yet another song called “The Doughnut Girl” in 1919. Our digitized collections also feature a manuscript copyright deposit for “She’s the Girl that Cooked the Doughnuts for the Boys of Uncle Sam” by Helen Bates Faris and Mell Faris, copyrighted at the very end of 1918. In the Faris’ song, a solider writes home to his girlfriend Mary Jane to confess that there has been but one girl who has distracted him – “the girl who cooked the doughnuts for the boys of Uncle Sam.”


There are plenty of photographs to be found in the Library’s Prints & Photographs Online Catalog that capture the history of The Salvation Army and its famous donuts, from images of doughnut sales, to photographs of a doughnut race (photo at left), to a poster celebrating “The Salvation Army Lassie.” So, as you sit down to enjoy your free doughnut today, take a few minutes to think about the history that sparked a doughnut craze as well as a trend that continues today!

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