Edinboro alumna speaks on recently published novel

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, October 6th, 2021 at 9:01 AM
Edinboro alumna speaks on recently published novel by Hazel Modlin
Photo by Hazel Modlin

On Monday, Sept. 27, the Department of English and Philosophy hosted English alumna and retired U.S. Army Major General Mari K. Eder in Alexander Recital Hall at 7 p.m. to read from the book she published this past August, ‘The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line.’

This book highlights a series of women’s contributions to the Allied war effort in World War II, touching on both what got them involved in the war in the first place, as well as what they did for their country.

In her introduction of Eder, Dr. Mary Paniccia Carden, Chairperson of the Department of English and Philosophy said, “It’s fitting that our distinguished alumni lecture series is resuming with the distinguished alumna with whom it began.”

Eder retired from the U.S. Army in 2013 after 36 years of service. She eventually ended her career as a Senior Woman General in the Army Reserves, one of only 6 in the Army, and she served all over the world in that time.

Eder began her speech with a humorous demeanor and deep knowledge and love for the topic. She explained how the inspiration for her book came from: an event she was chosen to speak at back in 2017 about leadership and ethics through examples of women in World War II.

“Now you may think World War II is back there with the pyramids, like it’s forever ago, but in so many ways, it’s just yesterday,” Eder explained. In order to prepare for this speech, she searched for people she could listen to, and “I was just so amazed by some of them that I wanted to keep telling them.”

Eder went on to give a brief history of a few of the 15 women she had included in her book. Here is a brief summary of each mentioned woman’s contribution:

Stephanie Czech Rader: A Polish woman who acted as an undercover agent for the Office of Strategic Services in Warsaw, Poland.

Charity Adams Earley: An African American woman who led the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, composed entirely of African American women.

Betty Bemis Robarts: An Olympic swimmer who joined the U.S. Navy when she heard the Olympics were canceled, and helped build code breaking machines for “Project Ultra.” She is the only woman covered who is still alive today.

Ida and Louise Cook: Sisters who were British opera “groupies” that helped smuggle Jewish refugees to safety.

Berendina Diet Eman: Helped smuggle Jewish refugees to safety after her Jewish boyfriend was told he was being deported. Sadly, he died in a concentration camp during the war.

The title of her book was  inspired by a speech  from Alex Borstein — the woman who won best supporting actress for the comedy Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — gave while she was accepting her award. Borstein’s grandmother served during World War II and was about to be shot into a pit. Her grandmother turned to the guard and asked, “What happens if I step out of line?” to which the guard responded, “Well, I don’t have the heart to shoot you, but somebody will.” Her grandmother somehow found the courage to make that step, and that is the reason Borstein is here today.

That courage in the face of such danger is the same reason Eder wrote her book. When discussing Eman, Eder said: “[Eman] said ‘that’s not right.’ That’s how many of them started; they said ‘that’s not right, I’m not going to accept that, I’m going to do something about it.’”

Many of the women Eder discusses in her novel were either purposely or accidentally buried in this period of history, and at least a few of them were not granted an award they were due. Eder said, “I want to do right by these people. That’s why I started saving these stories, thinking I could do something with them later, but I didn’t know what.”

The women Eder chose to focus on vary in recognizability: “Some of them are well-known, some of them are much less well-known, some of them should be more known, but they all have things in common in what they can teach us.” 

Throughout her book, Eder mentions that there is a common theme of belonging, what it means to take risks, and legacy. She mentioned that, “Stories that are real are in many cases more exciting and more meaningful than what we read in fiction.” The novel also touches on more somber ideas, including risk, fear, loss, and the ability to come back from almost anything.

Eder started her book in February of 2020, and her publisher wanted the entire manuscript done by April 30 for the first of at least four rounds of editing. During that short period of time, Eder said that she feels that “I got to know them. I got to know their families, know their children, their grandchildren.”

Hazel Modlin | @edinboronow

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