Stella May Young: “The Doughnut Girl”

Looking Back At Women’s History in Everett

Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a month-long series about noteworthy women in Everett, taken from vignettes written by former City Clerk Michael Matarazzo in his book ‘They Came from Everett.’ The histories of many women of Everett are stunning, with women playing a role in so many early parts of the formation of the country.

On January 29, 1918, a letter was sent from Colonel Edward J. Parker, the Secretary for Naval and Military Affairs for the Salvation Army, to the Passport Bureau of the Secretary of State’s Office in support of the passport application of Stella May Young.

Miss Young was a Cadet in the Salvation Army and was scheduled to depart from New York aboard the S.S. Rochambeau en route to France where she had been assigned by the Salvation Army’s National War Board to provide relief work for the soldiers fighting on the European continent. Miss Young’s passport was expedited and just a month later, she was in France and only three miles behind the front lines in Metz.

Miss Young was born in Everett on April 27, 1896, to Jacob and Maria Young. The Youngs lived on Beacham Street, and Mr. Young worked as a carpenter. Immigrants from Newfoundland, Mr. and Mrs. Young were active members of the Salvation Army and as recently naturalized citizens, had a strong sense of patriotism.

At the outbreak of World War I, Miss Young was at the Salvation Army Training College in New York City and anxious to be of service to her country in some way; so when a call when out for volunteers to go to France, she quickly volunteered. With two of the Young sons not old enough to serve in the armed forces and a third son who was blind, it pleased her parents that their family was contributing to the war effort in some way.

With only a week’s notice, Stella and the other “lassies” were on the S.S. Rochambeau and after the 10-day, stormy voyage they landed in Bordeau and given their assignments. Stella and others were sent to Metz, just three miles from the front.

After setting up a canteen near the Metz front, Stella and her fellow “lassies” served coffee and sandwiches to the servicemen. As supplies dwindled and were difficult to replenish, the lassies pondered what could be provided to the soldiers with the ingredients that they had on hand. Some suggested pancakes, but without butter and syrup, pancakes just aren’t pancakes.

It was not Stella, but another lassie who suggested making doughnuts. At first, the doughnuts were crullers since the workers did not have any way to cut the dough. Soon, however, they were using coffee cans and other substitutes to cut the holes in the dough before eventually receiving an actual doughnut cutter from the States. Now, fully equipped for the job, they were frying from 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts daily.

While they also baked pies and other treats for the soldiers, in addition to mending clothes and providing other much-needed services, it was the doughnut that caught the attention of the public and the ladies soon became known as the “doughnut girls.”

As a doughnut girl, Stella was committed to doing her part to provide a touch of home and comfort to the soldiers. Often, this meant doing so in the midst of shelling and with the horrifying results of war within earshot and plain sight. On one occasion, while she was mixing a batch of doughnut batter, a shell exploded sending shrapnel into the shelter. Stella had just gone to get some sugar when a piece of shrapnel landed into the frying pan near where she was just working. She kept that piece of shrapnel as a souvenir for the rest of her life.

The doughnut girls lived and worked under the most Spartan of conditions but still Stella felt badly because she had blankets, a cot and often a shelter over her head and the soldiers did not.

As the legend of the doughnut girls spread, stories about their dedicated service made its way back to the States along with photos of the girls in action. One of those photos featured the five-foot five-inch, brown-haired hazel-eyed Stella Young. Her fresh face and All-American look made Stella – “THE” Doughnut Girl – in the eyes of the public. In 1919, when composer Robert Bertrand Brown and lyricist Elmore Leffingwell wrote the song “My Doughnut Girl,” it was the image of Stella Young that graced the cover of the sheet music.

After the war, Stella returned home and served the Salvation Army in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Portland, Maine and elsewhere. As she rose through the ranks of the Salvation Army, she was sought after as a speaker in other communities to promote the Salvation Army and its Red Shield programs. She would often recount her experiences during WWI and would delight the crowds with her stories of war torn, young soldiers welcoming the sight and smells of home experienced through a simple treat as a doughnut or apple pie.

During World War II, she was called upon once again to service overseas. This time in England she operated the American Servicemen’s Club in Burton-Stacey outside of London. She also spent a great deal of her time organizing relief stations for the many people and families left homeless by the devastating bombing that took place from the air over the skies of London.

After World War II, she went back to work as a constant visitor to various hospitals in the New England Area. She would still do some engagements as the “Doughnut Girl” and would always be available when stories would be written about World War I. She retired in 1958 as a Brigadier in the Salvation Army. Brig. Stella May Young died in March of 1989 just shy of her 93rd birthday.

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