Lillian Exum Clement was nominated as a Democratic candidate for State House two months before the Nineteenth Amendment, granting the vote to women, was ratified in August 1920. The vote over her two male opponents in the primary was an astounding 10,368 to 41. She won the general election in November and, on January 5, 1921, took her seat in Raleigh, becoming the first woman in the South to hold legislative office. Others soon followed. In Tennessee, in a special election on January 25, 1921, Anna Lee Worley was selected to succeed her husband. In 1922 Arkansas and Kentucky gained female legislators. In North Carolina, the next women to serve were Julia Alexander and Carrie McLean, both of Charlotte, in 1925 and 1927 respectively. In 1997 an organization to promote and support Democratic women running for public office in North Carolina was established. It took the name “Lillian’s List,” in honor of Lillian Exum Clement.
Original Date Cast:
Miss Clement was born in Black Mountain. Her family moved to Biltmore where she attended school. She worked in the Buncombe County sheriff’s office while studying law at night. In 1916 she passed the bar exam and the next year hung out her shingle in the Law Building. As a legislator (addressed by fellow solons as “Brother Exum”) she introduced seventeen bills including the measure for the secret ballot, the “pure milk bill” requiring tuberculin testing of herds, and a reduction in the abandonment period required for divorce from ten to five years. She sponsored a bill to have the state assume control of a home for unwed mothers, garnering opposition (she was pelted with eggs and vegetables while speaking in its behalf in Asheville). In the summer of 1921 she married newspaperman E. Eller Stafford, necessitating a special bill to change her name in the short session. She did not seek reelection. At age thirty-nine she died of pneumonia and was buried in Riverside Cemetery.
Postscript: Since the marker was cast, evidence has been provided by the reference staff at Pack Memorial Library to indicate that Miss Clement was born on March 12, 1886 rather than March 12, 1894.
“Brother Exum Takes Her Seat,” Asheville Citizen-Times, May 8, 1960, reprinted in Jack Claiborne and William Price, eds., Discovering North Carolina: A Tar Heel Reader (1991)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 419--sketch by Alice R. Cotten
Carol Hammerstein, Women of the North Carolina General Assembly (1995)
Jennifer Ravi, Notable North Carolina Women (1992)
North Carolina Manual (1921)
Elizabeth M. Cox, Women State and Territorial Legislators, 1895-1995: A State-by-State Analysis, with Rosters of 6,000 Women (1996)
Lillian Exum Clement Stafford