Lillian Exum Clement Stafford at Pack Memorial Library’s North Carolina Room
In celebration of Women’s History Month in March, the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library will present a special exhibit and photographic display of Buncombe County native Lillian Exum Clement Stafford, the first woman to serve in the NC state legislature and the first elected female legislator in the South. The exhibit, which will run from March 1 through March 31, 2014, will include one of Clement Stafford’s suits, on loan from the Swannanoa Valley Museum, a suit made from fabric crafted at Biltmore Industries, a local enterprise that gained worldwide recognition for its hand-loomed cloth.
“I want to blaze a trail for other women,” Lillian Exum Clement told a reporter soon after arriving at the NC House of Representatives in 1921. “I know that years from now there will be many other women in politics, but you have to start a thing.”
Lillian Exum Clement, who went by Exum and was dubbed “Brother Exum” by her male colleagues in the state house, was born in Black Mountain in 1886 (although she later claimed 1894) and started her education in a one-room schoolhouse in the rural community of North Fork. At 13 she moved with her family to Biltmore, where she attended All Soul’s Parish School, graduating from there in 1903. After a year at Asheville Normal school, she began a 13-year stint working for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s office while studying law at night. In 1916 she became the first woman in Buncombe County to receive a license to practice law and only the fourth woman in the state to pass the bar exam.
“This exhibit shows a personal side of this important local figure,” said Buncombe County Library director Ed Sheary. “She isn’t widely known today, perhaps because of her short life, but her accomplishments certainly paved the way for other women in public office and professional careers.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public. The North Carolina Room is open Tuesday-Thursday 10:00-8:00, Friday 10:00-6:00, and Saturday 10:00-5:00. For more information, contact North Carolina Room staff at 828-250-4740, or email PackNC@buncombecounty.org.