On November 2, 1920, Lillian Exum Clement of Buncombe County
was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives,
becoming the first woman in the history of the state to be elected
to the legislature. Although only twenty-six years old at the
time, it was not the first of Clement's firsts.
Clement was born near Black Mountain, and raised there and
in Biltmore. She attended local schools and the Asheville Business
College. After her formal schooling was done, but still eager
for education and experience, she began work in the Buncombe
County sheriff's office while studying law in her spare time.
Clement was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in
1917, the first woman in the state to open her own practice.
One of the local judges gave her the nickname "Brother
Exum," which stuck with her for the rest of her career.
Clement quickly gained a reputation as a competent criminal
lawyer and after several years of a successful practice, she
decided to run for office. This was a bold decision, considering
that at the time of the Democratic primary, the 19th Amendment
had yet to be ratified and women would not vote in the election.
Running against two men in the primary, Clement won by just
83 votes over her closest competitor. With the Democratic party
firmly in control of the state, the general election was a mere
formality, and Clement was swept into office by a commanding
Once she reached Raleigh for the 1921 legislative session,
Clement was not content with just being there. She was an active
participant in the House, introducing at least seventeen bills,
many of which were passed. Although one of her first bills --
proposing private voting booths for elections -- was defeated
(some argued that other legislators opposed the bill because
it would be impossible to bribe or intimidate voters if you
couldn't see them cast their ballots), Clement was successful
in passing bills requiring testing of dairy herds and sanitary
dairy barns and decreasing the number of years of abandonment
required for a decree of divorce.
After her marriage in 1921, Clement decided not to run for
office a second time. She was active in local civic groups and
was a director of the state hospital in Morganton. Clement died
of pneumonia in 1925.
News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), January 6, 1921.
Alice R. Cotten, "Stafford, Lilliam Exum Clement."
In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 5.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
“Woman Legislator Travels Long Way To Capitol.”
Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, N.C.), May 8, 1960.
In North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings,
vol. 28, pp. 753-755.