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Home Of Asheville Trailblazer Protected

10:31 AM, Feb 1, 2014   |    comments
Photo: Asheville Citizen-Times
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Mark Barrett, Asheville Citizen-Times

The first time local attorney Lillian Exum Clement's name appeared on the ballot for state House in 1920, she could not vote for herself.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote was ratified later that year between the Democratic Party primary and the general election. Clement won both contests, becoming the first woman in the South to be elected to a state legislature.

The victories launched a short but eventful career in office in which Clement won passage of bills to ease divorce laws, improve milk sanitation and instituted privacy and secret ballots for voters.

She was also pelted with eggs and vegetables, called "Jezebel" and had her nose broken by an angry voter.

The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County on Friday formally announced it has obtained legal protection for the home Clement grew up in.

Clement's son-in-law, Wingate Anders, donated a preservation easement on the home just north of downtown to the society that prevents the home from being demolished in perpetuity and gives the society veto power over any changes to it.

Anders, who is in his 90s, plans to sell the home.

"I just felt like it was the right thing to do," he said of the easement at an event at the home Friday evening.

Clement was born outside Black Mountain late in the 19th century, although sources disagree about when. Most say she was born in 1894.

Zoe Rhine, a Buncombe County librarian who is doing research for a forthcoming online exhibit about Clement, says census records indicate Clement was actually born in 1886. She speculates that Clement may have fudged her age later in life to minimize the apparent difference with her husband, who Rhine counts as nine years younger.

Her family moved to the Biltmore Village area when her father began work for Biltmore Estate, Anders said. He recently came across a Bible inscribed to Clement by Edith Vanderbilt and some accounts say Vanderbilt later encouraged Clement in her studies.

Rhine says Clement started working for an attorney when she was 20, then spent several years as what one account calls an "office deputy" in the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, studying law with local attorneys in the evenings.

She passed the bar exam in 1916 and was given an honor for having one of the highest scores. She went by the name "Exum," and lawyers and others began calling her "Brother Exum."

"She could have stopped there," Rhine said, noting that Clement was only the fourth female attorney in the state.

She didn't. Clement was apparently not active in the women's suffrage movement that was a major factor in public life in those days, but Asheville was in the vanguard of the movement in the state.

Democratic Party leaders encouraged Clement to run for state House, and she beat two men in the party primary, which led to a virtually automatic win in the general election at a time when Democrats had a stranglehold on state politics and government.

A contemporary newspaper story says there were narcissus on Clement's desk, given by a women's voting group, when she took her seat in the state House in 1921. Her official photo suggests she may have attempted to downplay her femininity in the House, showing her with heavy glasses and hat pulled well down.

She told 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."

It soon became clear Clement had not come to Raleigh just to break a barrier.

Numbers cited in accounts vary a bit, but it seems Clement introduced 17 bills more or less and all but one or two eventually became law.

One established private voting booths and a secret ballot, an effort to making voters less subject to bribes. Another allowed a woman who had been abandoned by her husband to get a divorce after five years, halving the previous period.

Clement also persuaded legislators to require tuberculosis tests for dairy cattle and was honored by being allowed to preside over the House at at least one point.

One fight proved to be tougher and resulted in abuse from voters, including the Jezebel insult. Clement wanted a school for unwed mothers and so-called "delinquent girls" to become state-sponsored.\

People attending a meeting on the subject in Buncombe County threw eggs and vegetables at her, according to a 1960 newspaper story.

Clement became quiet, a move that in turn quietened the critics. Then she recalled a Biblical story "when the weapons of the people, who had passed judgment on a woman, were not eggs but hard stones. It is not for you nor me to condemn nor to cast the first stone."

Clement married an editor at what was then The Citizen newspaper in 1921, changing her name to Lillian Exum Clement Stafford - a step one newspaper story says literally resulted in passage of an act of the legislature. State law had to be changed to allow the name change for House voting.

She didn't seek another term in 1922. Rhine said her letters to her husband mention health issues while she was in the House, but the exact reason for Clement Stafford's early retirement are not clear. Anders said family lore says she had plans to seek another office one day, but her health did not allow it.

Clement Stafford gave birth to her only daughter in March 1924, but she was not able to watch her grow up. Clement Stafford died of pneumonia the next year and is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Clement's father in 1914 built the two-story arts and crafts home at 34 Hollywood St., two blocks east of Charlotte Street and now a stone's throw north of Interstate 240.

New owners will be able to renovate the shingle-clad home but not make any changes that violate historic preservation guidelines, said Jack Thomson, executive director of the preservation society.

"The house needs to remain viable for a family," he said. "We're not asking anyone to live in a house museum."

The easement is a positive move honoring a person who was "such a landmark historical figure" but has not always gotten the recognition she deserved, said Karen Oelschlaeger, head of the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County.

Her name does not appear in the index of a standard history of the state, and a historic marker honoring Clement only went up at the corner of College and Charlotte streets in 1999.

"I don't think she's been given her due," Oelschlaeger said.

 

 

 

Asheville Citizen-Times

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