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Where the Boys Are: Red Cross Donut Dollies in the Vietnam War

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Abstract:

Kara Dixon Vuic
Bridgewater College

“Girls,” asked a January 13, 1966, Washington Post article, “do you want to go where the boys are?” In its shrewd reference to the popular 1960 film Where the Boys Are, the question conjured images of college-age women seeking fun, adventure, and romance in exotic places. The boys to whom the article referred, however, would not be found on the Fort Lauderdale beaches. The boys were in Vietnam.
Following the U.S. military’s 1965 increase in troop deployments and a request by the Department of Defense, the Red Cross expanded its Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) Program, a reincarnation of the World War II clubmobile program in which women delivered coffee and donuts to troops. Through the SRAO program, more than six hundred college-educated single women between twenty-one and twenty-four years old traveled to Vietnam for one-year tours as recreation workers. Called “Donut Dollies” by the troops, they operated recreation centers on large American bases where men could find free food, games, and conversation with American women. To reach troops in the field, they traveled via jeep or helicopter to remote firebases and landing zones, board games and smiles in tow. In their light blue culottes, the women starkly contrasted with the war around them and caused a sensation wherever they went. The SRAO program’s use of young American women to provide what the Red Cross described as a “touch of home” offers useful insights into the exportation of American culture—specifically notions of gender and sexuality—to the Vietnam War.
This paper considers the complex ways in which the American military and the Red Cross sought to provide comfort to and boost the morale of soldiers through the use of young American women, even as second-wave feminism gained ground in the 1960s and 1970s. It also explores how the SRAO program highlighted important questions about the ties between race, gender, and sexuality as it employed a predominately white corps of women to entertain a racially integrated army. Through careful negotiation, the Red Cross transformed one of the most stereotypical images of women associated with the military—the camp follower/prostitute—into a patriotic, wartime role for women and deemed respectable the tantalizing ways in which they were being placed before the troops.
On many levels, the SRAO program exploited the sexuality of women for the benefit of men. However, the women themselves tell a more nuanced story. Many felt no qualms about being called such gendered terms as “girls” or “Donut Dollies” and embraced the wholesome image projected upon them, believing gender to be of great importance in providing a more comfortable and familiar wartime experience for the troops. Still others developed progressive ideas about the meaning of their service for the overall war effort and offered more complicated understandings of the meaning of gendered citizenship. As these women attest, representing traditional domesticity and femininity was an ambiguous task in an era and war that were anything but traditional.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245136_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Vuic, Kara. "Where the Boys Are: Red Cross Donut Dollies in the Vietnam War" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245136_index.html>

APA Citation:

Vuic, K. D. "Where the Boys Are: Red Cross Donut Dollies in the Vietnam War" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245136_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: Kara Dixon Vuic
Bridgewater College

“Girls,” asked a January 13, 1966, Washington Post article, “do you want to go where the boys are?” In its shrewd reference to the popular 1960 film Where the Boys Are, the question conjured images of college-age women seeking fun, adventure, and romance in exotic places. The boys to whom the article referred, however, would not be found on the Fort Lauderdale beaches. The boys were in Vietnam.
Following the U.S. military’s 1965 increase in troop deployments and a request by the Department of Defense, the Red Cross expanded its Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) Program, a reincarnation of the World War II clubmobile program in which women delivered coffee and donuts to troops. Through the SRAO program, more than six hundred college-educated single women between twenty-one and twenty-four years old traveled to Vietnam for one-year tours as recreation workers. Called “Donut Dollies” by the troops, they operated recreation centers on large American bases where men could find free food, games, and conversation with American women. To reach troops in the field, they traveled via jeep or helicopter to remote firebases and landing zones, board games and smiles in tow. In their light blue culottes, the women starkly contrasted with the war around them and caused a sensation wherever they went. The SRAO program’s use of young American women to provide what the Red Cross described as a “touch of home” offers useful insights into the exportation of American culture—specifically notions of gender and sexuality—to the Vietnam War.
This paper considers the complex ways in which the American military and the Red Cross sought to provide comfort to and boost the morale of soldiers through the use of young American women, even as second-wave feminism gained ground in the 1960s and 1970s. It also explores how the SRAO program highlighted important questions about the ties between race, gender, and sexuality as it employed a predominately white corps of women to entertain a racially integrated army. Through careful negotiation, the Red Cross transformed one of the most stereotypical images of women associated with the military—the camp follower/prostitute—into a patriotic, wartime role for women and deemed respectable the tantalizing ways in which they were being placed before the troops.
On many levels, the SRAO program exploited the sexuality of women for the benefit of men. However, the women themselves tell a more nuanced story. Many felt no qualms about being called such gendered terms as “girls” or “Donut Dollies” and embraced the wholesome image projected upon them, believing gender to be of great importance in providing a more comfortable and familiar wartime experience for the troops. Still others developed progressive ideas about the meaning of their service for the overall war effort and offered more complicated understandings of the meaning of gendered citizenship. As these women attest, representing traditional domesticity and femininity was an ambiguous task in an era and war that were anything but traditional.


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