Sunday, August 1st, 2021

Doughnut Girl, Purviance, to be honored April 14

Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2018

The United States World War One Centennial Commission, the State of Indiana and The Salvation Army will honor Helen Purviance, Saturday, April 14, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Huntington County’s Purviance will be celebrated as “the Doughnut Girl” for her service to soldiers during World War I at the Huntington County Courthouse.

The community is invited to attend the celebration for Purviance who achieved fame for her simple act of compassion making doughnuts for American soldiers. Born February 16, 1889 in Huntington, Purviance began the tradition of serving doughnuts to soldiers in 1917. She entered the Salvation Army’s officer training college, a seminary, in New York City, and was ordained and commissioned as a Salvation Army officer, a minister, with rank in 1908. She began as a Lt. Colonel, was promoted to Ensign and eventually became a Captain. Purviance died February 26, 1984. She is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Huntington.

In October 1917, Purviance was in France with the Salvation Army while World War I bombs were exploding everywhere. Salvation Army canteen huts were set up at various points along the front lines to offer free coffee, clothes-mending services, notions and stationery, concerts, spiritual support and baked good to soldiers.

When supplies got low, Purviance and a co-worker used whatever was at hand and made dough cut in strips and twisted into circles. They used a wine bottle to roll out the dough, condensed milk cans as cutters and a percolator top to punch the hole. Dropped into hot oil, the dough became doughnuts. The dough consisted of flour, sugar, canned milk and baking powder from the commissary, and eggs obtained from French housewives.

The cooking facilities for the doughnuts included a little round stove near the ground. They made 150 donuts that first day and served them to the soldiers on the front lines. In time Purviance enlisted the help of a French blacksmith to create a doughnut cutter, and anywhere from 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts were made each day by women working the canteens along the front lines.

Purviance said, “I was literally on my knees when those first doughnuts were fried, seven at a time, in a small pan. There was a prayer in my heart that somehow this home touch would do more for those who ate the doughnuts than satisfy a physical hunger.” Purviance also said that her faith comforted her through the ten long months of shell fire and mustard gas, nurtured long before World War I. She said she was never afraid because the Lord gave her the 91st Psalm, which insured her of her protection and safety.

Doughnuts date to ancient Rome, and in the 1600s, the Dutch brought the pastries to what became New York City. But, in fact, doughnuts (in America) didn’t come into their own until World War I, when millions of homesick American doughboys met millions of doughnuts in the trenches of France. The Salvation Army has continued the tradition of serving doughnuts to soldiers as well as civilians in crisis.