Photograph Don Harp Collection
Dooley's Dollies arriving at Pakse on way to Khong Island welcomed by Doc Broughton, L-11 Medic, part of Project 404 team. circa 1970
Who said war was hell?
Dooley's Dollies with Ed Gunter, Raven
Ban Houei Sai, Laos 1969
DOOLEY’S DOLLIES - History of the Stewardess Program
A COLLECTION OF MEMOIRS
From Airline Stewardesses Who Volunteered for the
Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Foundation 1961-1981
WHO WERE THE DOOLEY'S DOLLIES?
That was the question I asked. When I started my research on the T-28s warbird history, specifically in SE Asia and getting to know the Ravens (USAF Forward Air Controllers flying covert ops in Laos) I saw a need to publish their many stories that were not included in Christopher Robbin’s book, “The Ravens.” I collaborated with John Fuller, one of the Ravens, to gather the stories and photographs, co-edit and eventually publish, “The Raven Chronicles, In Our Words.” In that endeavor, several photos of young American women caught my attention. I was curious why they were in Laos during the Secret War. The Raven’s told me they were "Dooley's Dollies" who worked at several rural medical clinics in Laos, other than that, they didn’t know much more about them. Well, I wanted to know more. I thought it was fascinating – I wanted to know who they were and why they left the comfort and safety of their homes in the US to come to a foreign land in the midst of a terrible war. Who were these Dooley's Dollies?!!
At the time I did not know they were airline stewardesses, nor did I know the relation the airline I worked for, would play in the history of the Dooley’s Dollies “Stewardess Program.” I soon found myself digging deeper beyond their own stories. As my research expanded, I realized the history and their stories deserved to be published in a book too. I am in that process now and hope to have the book available in early to mid 2022. From what I’ve learned, I can't say enough about my admiration for them and hope their story will inspire others to volunteer with today’s Dooley-InterMed International, to travel and explore the world and to help those in need (aside from the current covid pandemic).
I must backtrack for a moment and explain that in order to fully understand the “Dooley’s Dollies,” I had to understand who Dr. Tom Dooley was so I read everything I could find on him. His story is intriguing and wrought with controversy, which I will touch lightly on in one of my chapters. At the height of his work, Dr. Dooley passed away from cancer January 18, 1961, he was just 34 years old. Without his charismatic fund-raising, his organization, MEDICO, faltered and was soon taken over by CARE, another international humanitarian organization with ties to the US government. Dooley’s mother and brother created a new private organization, the Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Foundation in hopes of continuing his legacy. They asked Dr. Verne Chaney to be the director. He accepted and spent the rest of his life devoted to running the organization as an unsung hero. One of the first challenges Dr. Chaney faced was finding enough people to staff the clinics at little to no cost. His friend, Marleane Thompson, who happened to be a Pan Am stewardess, suggested stewardesses could volunteer since they could get time off, had the right kind of training, and willingness to travel to remote locations where the clinics were located. She tested out her idea helping at one of the clinics in India, with great success. Thus began the “Stewardess Program.”
With the cooperation and active support of Pan American World Airways, airline stewardesses were soon recruited as volunteers for the “Dooley Foundation.” They were awarded 3 months unpaid leave to help at the clinics, initially in India, Laos, and Nepal. The stewardesses became affectionately known as "Dooley's Dollies."
The exact origin of the name “Dooley’s Dollies” is not known since most of the original people involved are no longer alive. I have been able to trace records as far back as 1964 when the nickname appeared in a printed news article written by a TWA stewardess. Albeit, by today’s standards, the name has a poor connotation and is considered “offensive” by many of the surviving volunteers. However, taken in the context of the times, I believe it could have been an offshoot of the highly respected and much loved “Donut Dollies” WWII fame. I also believe the name was adopted by the stewardesses themselves, who used it in a friendly teasing way towards Pan Am’s Vice President Sam Pryor. He was the major force at Pan Am that catapulted the volunteer stewardess program, he even served on the Dooley Foundation’s board of directors and provided much needed PR for them. He adored the stewardesses and would invite them to his family home in Hawaii for annual reunions.
However the origin; the name stuck. It was the name used when I found out about them through the Ravens. The Ravens didn’t call them any other name because the women, who volunteered in Laos, introduced themselves as "Dooley's Dollies." I have not seen or read where it was ever used in a derogatory manner back then or today. It was most likely just a common moniker much like their own call sign, “Raven” that instilled a certain reputation without giving away an individual’s identity.
“Dooley’s Dollies” is used in that same sense; if you knew about The Dooley Foundation's medical clinics then you automatically understood who they were. Sadly, time has faded the legacy of Dr. Dooley so it became more of a reason to document their work helping in his clinics. These volunteer stewardesses were intelligent, brave, compassionate, talented, independent trailblazing free spirits who made their mark on the world during a very contentious era of deadly political wars resulting in diaspora, famine, and desperate need for medical care in remote regions of the world - they answered that call and more. To me, it doesn’t get any more altruistic and inspiring. I am honored to write about their history and share their stories.
By the close of the stewardess program, 231 stewardesses had volunteered from 31 different international airlines.
I extend my gratitude to Rosemarie Hammond of the Dooley-Intermed International organization, to Polly Berent for being the first to share her story and Tanis Salant whose tremendous help has put this project in high gear. And my deepest appreciation goes to all the former volunteer stewardesses who shared their memoirs. There are many more people to thank that I will acknowledge in the book.
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