Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Salvation Army's Doughnut Lassies

What's the connection between The Salvation Army, women, and World War I?

The Salvation Army, founded by William Booth, began its ministries as the Christian Mission in England in 1865. The name was eventually changed to the Salvation Army to reflect their somewhat military style. The Salvation Army’s theology was radical. Booth believed that people who were homeless and poor needed the gospel of Jesus Christ but churches did not welcome these people in, so Booth decided he would. The Army was introduced in 1879 to America when teenager Eliza Shirley held the first Salvation Army meeting in Philadelphia.  Her father, who had previously immigrated to the United States, had written her about the need in America for the Army due to the ungodliness found here.

World War I

"During World War I, the Salvation Army sent approximately 500 volunteers to Europe who helped with everything from teaching Bible classes to playing music, providing meeting space for religious services, and cooking and serving food. These men and women followed the soldiers to the battle front and were often in danger as they served."*

Those women in the Salvation Army met a huge need on the front lines in Europe. Not only were they nourishing the soldiers with food but they were providing a friendly face during a time when many thought they would die. This was hard work the Salvation Army Lassies did. Yes, they were serving doughnuts and coffee but they were on the front lines, making doughnuts and coffee day and night. 

Researching Salvation Army Ancestors

I spent some time researching my paternal 2nd great-grandfather who was a member of the Salvation Army. One of the more disappointing pieces of news I learned as I was researching my ancestor is that the Salvation Army was not as diligent about membership records as other Christian traditions. It was common for individual Salvation Army churches to throw away records when a new officer took over. So if your ancestor was only a member and not working on becoming an officer, you may find little to nothing. But if you ancestor traveled with the Salvation Army or was trying to become an officer, you may have better luck.

The Salvation Army Archives and Research Center in Alexandria, Virginia holds records, periodicals, and photographs documenting the history of the Salvation Army in the United States. While they don’t hold membership records for all of those involved in the Salvation Army, they do have some. They also have the official Salvation Army periodical, The War Cry.  Microfilmed copies of The War Cry dating back to 1884 are available through interlibrary loan. This periodical may not mention your ancestor, but it can provide you social context. 

The Salvation Army’s Southern Historical Center located in Atlanta, Georgia is a museum and research facility that showcases the work of the Salvation Army in the Southern Untied States. The research library and the services offered through that library can help the family researcher possibly learn more about their ancestor.  Periodicals, both current and out-of-print, records and photographs are part of this archive.

Don't forget newspaper research. In an article I wrote for the GenealogyBank blog, I found numerous mentions of women passing out doughnuts and coffee for the Salvation Army in Europe. Make sure to search on keywords "Salvation Army" since some of these articles may not mention individual women. 

  • Was your ancestor a member of the Salvation Army?
  • Have you tried using Salvation Army resources?
  • Do you own any photos of her life during WWI?
  • Have you searched for her in the Passport Collection?

Additional Resources:

Salvation Army- Original Salvation Army Donut Recipe & Video

Hallelujah Lads and Lassies: Remaking the Salvation Army in America 1880-1930 by Lillian Taiz, published by the University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Women in God’s Army: Gender and Equality in the Early Salvation Army by Andrew Mark Eason, published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2003.

*"World War I Articles Recall Memories of Doughnuts & Lassies," GenealogyBank Blog ( accessed 8 March 2017)

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