Valley Rewind: Lillian Exum Clement

Courtesy of Swannanoa Valley Museum
Special to Black Mountain News

March is Women's History Month, and so this month we celebrate wonderful women of the Swannanoa Valley. North Fork Valley native Lillian Exum Clement (1824-1924) was the first female legislator in the South. Schooled in the North Fork, and later in Asheville, Clement started work as an office deputy in the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office at age 14. Later, she studied law with James Jefferson Britt and Robert G. Goldstein. In 1916, she passed the state bar exam with one of the highest scores among 70 students. In 1917, she became a criminal law attorney and the first female attorney to establish a legal practice without male partners. In 1920, Clement was elected to the General Assembly of the 1921's House of Representatives by an all-male electorate by the overwhelming margin of 10,368-41, becoming the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives in North Carolina. Incredibly, all of this occurred before the ratification of the 19th amendment, which took place on Aug. 18, 1920. Clement will be featured in the Swannanoa Valley Museum's History Cafe Series in 2020. Learn more at