[This blog post was written by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist in the Special Collections Section.]
Announcement of Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers, PC.2084, and Tribute to Exum, the American South’s First Female State Representative, and to her Father
Exum and George Clement in a field, Buncombe County, ca. 1916.
I am very pleased to announce that the Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers, PC.2084, are now processed and available for research. These papers are particularly valued because Lillian, known within her family and by most others as Exum, has had a significant legacy as the first female state representative in North Carolina. Notably, she was also the first female legislator in the American South. Following her election in November 1920, Exum has often been quoted as telling a reporter, “I am by nature, very conservative, but I am firm in my convictions. I want to blaze a trail for other women. I know that years from now there will be many other women in politics, but you have to start a thing.” [News and Observer. Jan. 7, 1921].
Much has already been written about Exum, her life and public service. Naturally, a comprehensive history and documentation of her accomplishments goes far beyond the scope of this piece. Instead, I will narrow my focus to what has recently evoked my curiosity about who and what inspired her success. Since Father’s Day is celebrated this month, I thought it would be revealing to shed some light on Exum, alongside her father, George Washington Clement (ca. June 17, 1852–Dec. 1942). And thankfully, the papers do contain a few items that illustrate a strong father and daughter connection. Additionally, a study of the lives of George and his daughter suggests that both shared similar traits. These include very strong determination and a work ethic, along with convictions, faith, and ideals, such as dedication to family, church, and community–surely among the profound influences in her life.
Exum and George Clement at the intake of the North Fork of the Swannanoa River, ca. 1916.