[This blog post was written by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist, Private Collections of the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]
This blog is based, with some modifications, on one published in March of 2018 as part of Women’s History Month and to announce the availability in the State Archives of the Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers (PC.2084). She remains worthy of additional highlighting as North Carolina begins a campaign to recognize women breaking barriers and to celebrate the upcoming 100th anniversary, 2020, of women’s suffrage. A member of the North Carolina Bar and a practicing attorney, L. Exum Clement (as she signed her official portrait) chose to run for the state legislature even before women gained the vote, through ratification of the 19th Amendment in August of 1919.
As the story goes and newspaper articles show, the Buncombe County Democratic party, in a remarkable show of support, had placed Exum’s name on the ballot for the June primary. Such gumption was characteristic of L. Exum Clement (hereafter referred to as Exum). She went on to beat two male contenders, winning in the November election to become the first woman lawmaker in her own state and in the entire South. Exum’s accomplishments did not stop there, and she continued to show exceptional drive and courage as a freshman legislator. Exum’s papers in the State Archives contain a remarkable letter of January 11, 1920, from her father who wrote these telling words, “I was glad to see in the papers that you were appointed on an important committee. Your friends here are talking of running you for Congress in the next election.”