Today, doughnuts are one of the most popular sweet treats in America. On June 2, 2023, the world celebrates National Doughnut Day.
Many folks may not know that the origins are tied to the charitable organization the Salvation Army and its work for American soldiers during WWI. Those volunteers are partially responsible for the American troops’ “Doughboys” nickname.
When the United States entered the First World War in April 1917, the Salvation Army sprang into action to help the troops’ morale. The Salvation Army’s USA National Commander Evangeline Booth dedicated the entire organization to assisting in the war effort. When the military command suggested she “send some lassies over,” Booth sent eleven female officers to the front lines. Two ensigns, Margaret Sheldon, and Helen Purviance, decided that home cooking could bring a smile to everyone’s face. Using just sugar, lard, flour, baking powder, canned milk, and cinnamon, they made hand-fried doughnuts in a small pan on a rainy day. On the first day, the pair served 150 doughnuts. Word spread quickly along the Western Front, and soon they were frying up to 9,000 doughnuts daily. They became known as “The Doughnut Lassies”. The popularity of their war doughnuts lingered long after the last shots were fired, and the Lassies are given credit for popularizing the creation back at home in the years that followed.
In 1938, National Donut Day was established as a way to honor the members of the Salvation Army. That year, the first celebration was held in Chicago, with several of the Salvation
Army Lassies in attendance. Their bravery (the women were often within reach of the enemy’s guns) and cooking skills were held in the highest regard. Even more than a century later, their legacy remains.
“This National Doughnut Day, as the country celebrates with a sweet treat, we are proud to remember that this tradition started with our own volunteers more than a hundred years ago,” said Major Todd Hawks, Area Commander of The Salvation Army of North Texas. “For us, the doughnut symbolizes the hope that The Salvation Army provides to those in need.”
Today, the deep-fried goodies are beloved by most Americans, with glazed, Boston Crème and chocolate-frosted flavors taking the top three most-loved spots. Stores from Dunkin’ to Krispy Kreme, from Shipley’s to Voodoo, serve millions of doughnuts daily (and are likely to offer specials and free doughnuts on National Doughnut Day!)
People are encouraged to celebrate National Doughnut Day by supporting local doughnut stores, making doughnuts at home with friends and family, bringing doughnuts to work – and, importantly, by volunteering at their local Salvation Army chapter and spreading the word about the story behind the popular baked goods. The Day also encourages people to explore the creativity in today’s doughnut industry by learning about the many different shapes and flavors of doughnuts. The Salvation Army also celebrates the day with the popular World Doughnut Eating Championship, held aboard the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego. The National WWI Museum remembers the Donut Lassies every year with a special event, while Salvation Army chapters across the country visit veterans’ homes and deliver doughnuts as a special thank you.