Did you know that Donut Dollies technically predated the world wars?

A Clubmobile handing out donuts and coffee to air crews before a mission in Masters of the Air
(Image: Apple Studios)

In today’s reaction article to Masters of the Air, we’ll talk about Clubmobiles and the ladies (“Donut Dollies” or “Clubmobile girls”) who operated them. You probably know that Donut Dollies were already giving out donuts in World War I, but you might not have realized that the tradition started far earlier.
In 1861, the first year of the American Civil War, the ladies of Augusta, Maine, baked 50 bushels (460 liquid gallons) of donuts (of many shapes beyond just the circle with a hole) as a farewell gift to the local volunteers heading off to war. This was a one-off event, but giving the soldiers donuts became a regular practice in World War I, when Salvation Army member Helen Purviance started baking them on the Western Front to lift the men’s morale. She used bottles and shell casings as rolling pins, and made a contraption out of a milk can, a camphor ice tube and a wooden block to make holes in the donut after the soldiers asked if it could be done. Purviance and her companions sometimes donned helmets, gas masks and picked up revolvers to take the baked goods all the way to the frontline.

Stella Young of the Salvation Army holding a pan of donuts during World War I
(Photo: The Salvation Army)

Donut Dollies were in full swing during World War II, offering donuts and other goods from buses or trucks converted into “Clubmobiles.”  Becoming a Donut Dolly wasn’t easy: applicants had to be at least 25, have a college degree and good reference letters, pass a physical exam, and pass an interview testing their personality. They were expected to strike up wisecracking banter with any soldier, look at the photos of girlfriend or wives, sympathize with the recipients of Dear John letters, dance, and politely and pleasantly deflect unwanted advances. The most famous Dolly of World War II is probably Elizabeth Richardson; she saw the end of the war in Europe only to die in a plane crash in July 1945. She is one of only four women who were laid to rest in the Normandy American Cemetery.

A Clubmobile greeting air crews returning from a mission
(Photo: U.S. Army Air Forces)
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