The Marshall Treatment

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By Matt Meacham, Program Manager

Read Time 8 minutes
February 19, 2024

“There were apparently hidden subtleties to The Treatment…The Treatment, apparently, concentrated all of its power on a man’s strongest point—his pride in himself as a man. Could it be that that was also his weakest point?” -James Jones, From Here to Eternity (1951) 

“To test his strength of character, he gets what Lowney calls the Treatment. He does the dirty work, he speaks only when spoken to…She makes a selection of books and sets him to work on them. He does not just read them; he copies them, word for word…Most of the would-be writers give up under the Treatment.” -A.B.C. Whipple, “James Jones and His Angel,” Life Magazine (May 7, 1951)

The Treatment, James Jones, and Lowney Turner Handy

I haven’t determined which preceded which: A) James Jones’s use of “The Treatment” to designate the hazing that Private Prewitt, protagonist of From Here to Eternity, endured at the instigation of the G Company higher-ups, or B) Lowney Turner Handy’s application of the same term to the regimen that she imposed upon participants in an authorial training program that she and Jones cofounded in Marshall, a small town in east-central Illinois.

Either way, the composition of Jones’s novel and the formation of the Handy Writers’ Colony were so intertwined that one usage of the expression surely must have influenced the other.

After serving in the South Pacific in World War II, James Jones (1921-1977) returned to his hometown: Robinson, Illinois, 28 miles south of Marshall. Jones had begun studying writing and honing his authorial skills. Having experienced trauma both in war and in his family life, however, he struggled to find stability.

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A mural at the corner of Archer Avenue and Seventh Street in Marshall, painted by Texas-based artist Anat Ronen of The Walldogs, recognizes the Handy Writers’ Colony. The Marshall water tower appears in the background.

Jones’s aunt sought advice from Lowney Turner Handy, a financially secure Robinson resident and Marshall native known for her support of marginalized people and affinity for literature, who became convinced that he had exceptional potential as an author. She and her husband invited him to live with them and write full-time. She helped him obtain a discharge from the Army and appointed herself his editor, promoter, and disciplinarian.

As Jones’s reputation grew, several local aspiring writers pursued guidance from him and Handy, coalescing into a community of practice.

When From Here to Eternity was published, Handy formalized that community of practice as the Handy Writers’ Colony in Marshall, Illinois. The publicity that the novel garnered elicited dozens of applications from people eager to join the colony, which might be described as equal parts military boot camp, Medieval monastic scriptorium, and beatnik countercultural commune.

Handy’s and Jones’s personalities were unconventional, complex, often self-contradictory, and sometimes volatile, and the colony’s internal dynamics and relationship with Marshall reflected their idiosyncrasies. It dwindled after Jones’s 1957 departure and dissolved when Handy died in 1964. Nevertheless, in some cases, “The Treatment” proved effective. At least eleven alumni wrote books issued by major publishers.

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A tribute to Edwin “Sonny” Daly on display at Marshall Public Library. Daly was a Marshall native, an alumnus of the Handy Writers’ Colony, the author of novels including the critically acclaimed Some Must Watch (1956), an educator and school administrator in California, and a supporter and benefactor of Marshall Public Library.

“The greatest achievement of the Handy Writers’ Colony is that it was, like Lowney herself, a wholly original effort at creating something remarkable,” comments Marshall native Nathan Crews in his 2020 Eastern Illinois University master’s thesis entitled “‘There is Nothing Else Like It’: The Innovative Personality of Lowney Turner Handy.”

Spark! and the Innovations of Marshall, Illinois

Marshall Public Library will highlight what Handy’s innovative personality produced when it hosts Spark! Places of Innovation, the newest Museum on Main Street exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution and Illinois Humanities, February 24 to March 30.

“We’re going to create this 6’ x 9’ room that is going to be what it would have looked like and felt like if you were a member of the Handy Writers’ Colony,” explained library director Alyson Thompson.

Alyson continued, “Inside, we’ll have a very sparse setting with a World War II bed. We have an original typewriter—Lowney Turner’s actual typewriter. We’ll have a desk, some of the works that would have been copied. We’ll also have pictures, on the exterior, of James Jones and Lowney Turner, along with some oral histories that people can listen to while they’re looking at the cabin.”

Additionally, the library will conduct a silent auction for author-autographed copies of books written by colony participants. 

The Handy Writers’ Colony isn’t the only feature of Marshall that makes it a place of innovation. Marshall (population: 3,900) is among 30 communities—including seven in Illinois—profiled in Spark! as examples of small towns that have fostered and benefited from innovation in various fields.

Spark! also highlights Marshall’s Cork Medical Center. Established in 1971, Cork earned national recognition for developing innovative methods of providing healthcare (“Treatment” of another sort) and medical education in rural settings. It was the subject of a companion exhibition that Marshall Public Library produced in conjunction with another Museum on Main Street exhibition, Crossroads: Change in Rural America, in 2019. Because the segment of Spark! describing Cork is brief, the library will reprise its own exhibition about the clinic alongside Spark!.

The library and Illinois Humanities maintain a long-established relationship. During my interview eleven years ago for the job that I’m privileged to have, Kristina Valaitis, then executive director of our organization, mentioned Marshall Public Library as an example of a small-town institution with which Illinois Humanities has a long and productive partnership. Library director Alyson Thompson received a Public Humanities Award from our organization last year, and head librarian and genealogist Jamie Poorman is an Illinois Humanities Road Scholar.

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A mural on the Shore-Murphy Insurance building in Marshall pays tribute to Dr. George Mitchell, a local physician who contributed significantly to the practice of medicine in rural America and was instrumental in founding Cork Medical Center. It was painted by Walldogs-affiliated artist Dave Correll of Minnesota.

Marshall Public Library’s collaboration with us is just one manifestation of the innovative spirit in which it pursues cultural and educational opportunities for its community. Recently, it hosted Americans and the Holocaust, an exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Library Association, and presented thought-provoking public programs along with it.

Over the past decade, the library has augmented its substantial local oral history, newspaper, and visual image collections and digitized much of its content. Last year, Marshall Public Library obtained the collection of the now-closed Clark County Genealogical Library, creating an opportunity to draw visitors from beyond the immediate area for genealogical research, presentations, and seminars. 

“People were starting to come to us to ask questions about genealogy research and resources, so we thought, you know, we might be onto something here that’s bigger than just genealogy but that could help our community as a whole and bring people in,” Alyson noted.

To make room for the collection, the library is about to renovate part of the second floor of its building and install an elevator using a tourism incentive grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The remarkable Gaslight Art Colony has designed a mural for installation in the library. It will depict four buildings that have housed the library over its history, punctuated by the spines of books by authors associated with Marshall (including, of course, James Jones). Painting will begin at the Gaslight gallery on February 22. The finished product will be unveiled at the library on March 14, and then stored until the renovation is complete.

Still, another Spark!-adjacent event will be a February 29 performance by Illinois Humanities Road Scholar Chris Vallillo featuring his western Illinois-themed song cycle, Forgottonia, enabling Marshall residents to compare their region with another on the opposite side of the state. 

The Marshall Public Library Treatment

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Marshall Public Library director Alyson Thompson, left; Debra Reid, longtime Illinois-based museum professional and educator, curator of agriculture and the environment at The Henry Ford in Michigan, and consultant to Illinois Humanities; and Marshall Public Library head librarian Jamie Poorman confer in front of the library’s model railroad station during a site visit on November 2, 2023.

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This mural, painted by Scott Lindley of The Walldogs and installed in 2019, represents businesses that previously occupied the building that now houses Marshall Public Library.

Rest assured that when you visit Marshall Public Library for Spark! Places of Innovation, you won’t undergo anything resembling “The Treatment” experienced by Private Prewitt or Handy Writers’ Colony participants (or even Cork Medical Center patients). The only “Treatment” to which Marshall Public Library patrons are subjected consists of a friendly welcome followed by an invitation to delve into the vast resources available for deepening their understanding of their own community and broadening their knowledge of the world beyond.

Plan your visit to Marshall to experience Spark! Places of Innovation and be sure to check out Marshall Public Library’s three companion exhibitions and six related events and activities! The celebration begins February 24 and runs through March 30, 2024.

About Spark! Places of Innovation

Spark! Places of Innovation, part of Illinois Humanities’ Museum on Main Street program, is a Smithsonian traveling exhibition that highlights innovation in rural America from the perspectives of people who have lived it. Their words, images, and experiences, gathered through an ambitious crowdsourcing initiative, are the heartbeat of the exhibition. The communities featured in Spark! – including seven small towns in Illinois – have enhanced their vitality through innovations in fields such as technology, agriculture, economic development, education, and the arts. Explore the diversity, ingenuity, and tenacity of rural Americans in Spark! Places on Innovation.

Learn More