Why “Doughboy”?

Copied from the Camp Benning 1920-21 yearbook. Source listed below.

“Who, what and why is a ‘doughboy’?” Well, he is an American Infantryman, of course, as distinguished from all other wearers of Uncle Sam’s uniform, and about the best two-fisted and two-legged fighting man of which there is any record anywhere, and he gets his name because – because, why, er, come to think of it, how does he get the name?

And there you are. In an ambitious attempt to solve this mystery of long standing for the benefit of our readers, we went to no less an authority than Lieut. Col. James G. Hannah, Director of the Department of Research, and an officer of long service and deep erudition. “My boy,” said the Colonel sadly, “you ask me the only question this Department has never been able to solve satisfactorily by the critical research method. In my youth, I, too, was intrigued by this mystery and spent many long hours pouring over musty tomes of military lore, delving deep into the official records of our Army back to Revolutionary days, but never have I encountered an explanation that would really explain this perplexed question. This Department can only commend your worthy purpose and wish you success in the task you have set yourselves.”

With our confidence somewhat shaken, but still hopeful nevertheless, we next accosted a grizzled non-com, who bore on his battle-scarred breast all the campaign ribbons since the Black Hawk War. “Can’t say, sir,” he replied to our question. “I’ve heard it all my life, but never took the trouble to find out how we happened to get the name. Some say the Cavalrymen started it, sort of making fun of us, I guess, because we have to plod along through the mud, and I suppose that’s as reasonable as for us to call them Yellow Legs.”

And so it was all along the line. About all our investigation established was that, as regards this question, there are two major schools of thought, one of which adheres to the origin stated by Sergeant Hill just quoted, while the other contends that “doughboy” is a corruption of the words, “dough ball” used to describe a certain type of button worn on the Infantry overcoats in the early parts of the nineteenth century. Still another tenable theory comes from the use of pipe-clay (familiarly known as “dough”) to whiten the trouser stripes of the dress uniform. And here we are forced to rest, leaving the solution of the question to some master mind of the future, if indeed there is a solution. May it not be that, like Topsy, the term was not born, but “jes growed”?

Regardless of how the sobriquet originated or the idea it may at one time have been intended to convey, the title “doughboy” is Infantry property and belongs of right to no other branch, all of which have their own popular nicknames. We are proud of it, and justly resent its misuse. In these days of machinery, when our brethren of the Field Artillery, the Engineers, the Air Service and other branches call to their aid the genius of the gasoline engine to move them from place to place, there is inspiration in the realization that we “doughboys” are not dependent upon any thing but the equipment we were born with, and that while we may churn up a lot of mud in the process, we GET THERE just the same. If we are a little slower than some, why we’ll just stick around a little longer, that’s all.

The WWI Profile of Sgt Forney Mintz referenced the yearbooks from Camp Benning, GA, (now Fort Benning) home of the US Army Infantry School. The yearbook is named “The Doughboy.” The text and photos above were taken from the 1920-21 yearbook.

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