March is Women in History month and we need to tip our hat to those women who have been key to the success in building this country.  The list of possible candidates is not only long but extensive.  But for this edition, I’d like to make note of a group of American women who selflessly put their life in harm’s way to support the war effort.  Not only did their support extended across a multiple of wars but their impact on those that served was even more profound.

These ladies were referred to as the Donut Dollies.  They originally appear during WWII, but were still an integral part of our war effort up through the Vietnam War.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spoken with a number of museum visitors who are Vietnam Vets.  Every time I ask if they remembered the Donut Dollies, they shake their head, smile, and proceed to remember them fondly.  Donut Dollies were the female Red Cross Volunteers who supported our troops overseas in not only WWII, but the Korean and Vietnam wars.

How did Donut Dollies come to be?

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the American Red Cross (ARC) was authorized to mobilize support efforts to supply aid to our sick and wounded servicemen as well as to provide a communication link between the U.S. military and civilians at home.

The War Department also realized that maintaining troop morale was an important component of victory, and accordingly called upon the American Red Cross for support. With so many men allocated to the war effort, morale became an element that women could assist with.  Initially stateside, women volunteered to work in canteens and at transportation hubs, providing food and entertainment to our GIs who were in training or travelling. As servicemen started to go overseas, the need for volunteers escalated and the Red Cross created a campaign to recruit women to serve overseas as well as at home.

What did a Donut Dolly look like?

The Red Cross implemented very high standards for their female volunteers. Applicants had to be college graduates, at least 25 years of age, have excellent reference letters, pass physical examinations, and have an outstanding personality. Only one in six applicants made the cut.

Once accepted, the new volunteers were sent to American University in Washington D.C. for immunization and their formal training. Volunteers underwent basic training in the history, policies and procedures of the ARC as well as the American military. Their training also included the appropriate way to wear the ARC uniform (10 pages of instruction in all).  Below is an example of some of their restrictions:

  • Collars always to be pinned
  • No earrings,
  • No hair ornaments
  • No “brilliant nail polish”
  • No “excessive use of cosmetics.”

After basic training some recruits received additional training in programs emphasizing such things as recreation or administration. Once training was completed the volunteers worked locally while awaiting their overseas orders.

How did they help?

Initially during WWII, Donut Dollies (stationed in Great Britain) supported the war effort at designated service clubs or via mobile service clubs called clubmobiles. The idea was for them to provided food, entertainment, and a remembrance of what was waiting at home for our servicemen.  Eventually, their efforts extended beyond Great Britain to include the entire European front.

What was a mobile service club or clubmobile?

Clubmobiles were single decker English Green Line buses fitted with coffee and doughnut making machines. In addition, the clubmobiles carried chewing gum, cigarettes, magazines and newspapers.  They were also equipped with three ARC volunteers, a phonograph, loudspeakers, and records as well as lounge in the back of the bus to socialize. These volunteers were quickly coined the nicknamed “donut dollies” since they were primarily responsible for making and serving doughnuts to our servicemen.  They provided a little touch of home to many a home sick GI.

Just how many doughnuts were served in WWII?

A report for December 1944 showed that 205 Red Cross women in Great Britain served 4,659,728 doughnuts to the troops.

How extensive was their efforts?

Red Cross clubmobiles were not only in Great Britain, but after the Normandy invasion, ten groups of clubmobilers with eight trucks per group were sent into France. The women were stationed in nearby towns and would drive to different bases. There they performed the same duties they had in Great Britain – making and serving doughnuts and coffee, serving snacks, talking with servicemen, playing music and delivering a little slice of home. The clubmobilers served throughout France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg until VE Day in 1945 and continued to serve in post war Great Britain and Germany until 1946.

In Korea, the Donut Dollies not only delivered approximately 11,000 to 15,000 donuts per month, they hosted a weekly radio program on Armed Forces Korea Network Radio as well as distributed about 600 birthday cards a month.

In Vietnam, Donut Dollies traveled 20-50 miles a day to entertain 10-100 Soldiers. An average week included at least 75 program stops.

According to the Red Cross Museum, a total of 899 Donut Dollies served in South Korea, traveling almost three million miles by jeep and helicopter. Another 627 served with the SRAO in Vietnam.

How do you say thank you?

I’m not sure we can ever truly say thank you enough to these women who selflessly contributed to the war effort.  While to some it may seem like a small effort, I’m sure it was tremendous to our servicemen.  Who does that?  Gives up the safety and comfort of home to fly thousands of miles to do whatever little bit is needed to put a smile on a soldier face or give them a few minutes of peace in a crazy world.  I don’t know about you, but if angels do exist…another name for them is Donut Dollies.