National Donut (Not Doughnut) Day

Jun 3, 2014

Old-Fashioned Glazed DoughnutsIn 1917 young Helen Purviance, an ensign in the Salvation Army, was sent to France to work with the American First Division. Putting her Hoosier ingenuity to work, she and a fellow officer, Ensign Margaret Sheldon, patted the first dough into shape by hand, but soon employed an ordinary wine bottle as a rolling pin. Since they had no doughnut cutter, the lassies used a knife to cut the dough into strips and then twisted them into crullers.

Ensign Purviance coaxed the wood fire in the potbellied stove to keep it at an even heat for frying. Because it was back-breaking to lean over the low fire, she spent most of the time kneeling in front of the stove.

“I was literally on my knees,” she recalled, “when those first doughnuts were fried, seven at a time, in a small frypan. There was also a prayer in my heart that somehow this home touch would do more for those who ate the doughnuts than satisfy a physical hunger.”

Ensign Helen Purviance and crew; photo courtesy of

Ensign Helen Purviance and crew; photo courtesy of


Soon the tempting aroma of frying doughnuts drew a lengthy line of soldiers to the hut. Standing in mud and rain, they patiently waited their turn.



Although the girls worked late into the night, they could serve only 150 doughnuts the first day. The next day, that number was doubled. A while later, when fully equipped for the job, they fried from 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts daily, as did other lassies along the frontline trenches.

Courtesy of the Salvation Army

Courtesy of the Salvation Army


After several soldiers asked, “Can’t you make a doughnut with a hole in it?”, Ensign Purviance had an elderly French blacksmith improvise a doughnut cutter by fastening the top of a condensed milk can and camphor-ice tube to a wooden block. Later, all sorts of other inventions were employed, such as the lid from a baking powder can or a lamp chimney to cut the doughnut, with the top of a coffee percolator to make the hole.

The soldiers cheered the doughnuts and soon referred to Salvation Army lassies as “doughnut girls,” even when they baked apple pies or other treats. The simple doughnut became a symbol of all that the Salvation Army was doing to ease the hardships of the frontline fighting man—the canteens in primitive dugouts and huts, the free refreshments, religious services, concerts, and a clothes-mending service. (Text courtesy of

Courtesy of the Salvation Army

Courtesy of the Salvation Army


The first National Donut Day was celebrated by the Salvation Army in Chicago in 1938 to raise funds during the Great Depression and to commemorate the work of the “donut lassies.”

On Friday, June 6, 2014, local Pasadena doughnut shops will participate in National Donut Day. A portion of all sales, up to $10,000, will benefit the Salvation Army‘s Haven Program for veterans.

Participating businesses:

• Royal Donut: 633 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena
• Gladstone Donut House: 1332 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena
• Hill Donuts: 1441 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena
• Mr. Goods Donuts Shop: 1840 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
• B.C. Donuts: 2525 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena
• Sierra Doughnut: 3837 E. Sierra Madre Blvd., Pasadena
• Poster’s Donuts: 3538 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 

Eat a doughnut! Support our troops

By Amy Love Yah_Flickr

Photo courtesy of Amy Loves Yah/Flickr Creative Commons





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