Escapism, normality and domesticity in Vietnam: A re-examination of women’s lives in the Vietnam War
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis explores the experiences of military nurses and Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) volunteers, also known as “Donut Dollies,” who served in Vietnam. By examining both their working and personal lives demonstrate the many ways in which these women distracted themselves from the war. Escapism and the need for normality was a common feeling between these women and has gone unexplored. Historian Heather Marie Stur provides important insight into the roles of nurses and Donut Dollies through the lens of gender studies. The recently created Donut Dollie Detail website holds several fascinating interviews with Donut Dollies. Key memoirs from nurses are written by Lynda Van Devanter, Barbara Hesselman Kautz, and Lou Eisenbrandt. Key memoirs from Donut Dollies are written by Rosemary Thunder Schowebel and Joann Puffer Kotcher. Using these memoirs, along with other sources, this thesis recovers the experiences of nurses and Donut Dollies, highlighting their challenges in both their working and personal lives while serving in Vietnam. This thesis will demonstrate how and why escapism, normality and domesticity was used by these women, uncovering a rarely told narrative of the Vietnam War. Both worked in challenging environments all the while trying to keep their calm during rocket attacks and sniper fire. They lived in harsh conditions, making do with basic facilities and doing their best to keep out the dust, bugs, and any other reminders of the war. Not only did these women live and work in the Vietnam War but they also suffered. They lost friends, watched as men and women they knew died, were vulnerable to sexual assault from American men, and even faced the likelihood of their own death. Recovering the experiences of these women opens and expands a new narrative demonstrating that the demands of war resulted in the need for escapism.