“Brother Exum” Takes Her Seat, 1921

First Female Legislator in the South, Lillian Exum in North Carolina's House of Representatives

On January 5, 1921Lillian Exum Clement took her seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, becoming the first woman in the South to hold legislative office.

Clement was born in Black Mountain in 1886, and 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 opened her own practice.

Nominated as a Democratic candidate two months before the Nineteenth Amendment granted her and other women the right to vote, she beat two male opponents in the primary by a wide margin.

An active legislator, she introduced 17 bills. She sponsored a bill to have the state assume control of a home for unwed mothers, garnering widespread opposition (she was pelted with eggs and vegetables while speaking on the bill’s behalf in Asheville). Clement did not seek reelection, but was appointed a director of the State Hospital at Morganton after her term in office. She died of pneumonia at age 31 and was buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

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 Clement.

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