Asheville Women in History: Catalysts For Change

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which allowed women the right to vote. While some American women were granted the right to vote under this Amendment, there were still many inequalities that women were fighting to change. In Asheville, on Friday, September 12, 1919, an organization was created by several of these ground-breaking women in order to combat some of these inequalities and provide women with opportunities previously only afforded to men.

The Asheville Business and Professional Women’s Association began with 36 members, with Dr. Elizabeth Smith elected as the first President. According to an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times, “… the association is non-political, non-sectarian, and in no wise [sic] a union.” The Association was also self-supporting, with a primary goal of promoting better social and recreational opportunities for business and professional women.

One such professional woman who was also an organizing member and Vice President of the Association was Lillian Exum Clement. Clement was born near Black Mountain, and raised in Buncombe County. She studied law while working for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and was admitted to the bar and began practicing as an attorney in 1917. Clement was widely known among law circles as “Brother Exum.” She represented Buncombe County as the Democratic candidate in 1920, nominated before women were even enfranchised. She was elected by a landslide (some 10,000 votes to around 40) and became North Carolina’s first female legislator, as well as the first female lawyer to practice without male partners in North Carolina. Clement’s victories helped continue the drive for women’s suffrage during this monumental time.

Lillian Exum Clement on foot bridge; from the Stafford and Wingate L. Anders Collection

Lillian Exum Clement introduced 17 bills during her time as a Representative and was active in many local civic groups, including the Asheville Business and Professional Women’s Association. Clement’s legacy certainly lives on- in 1997, “Lillian’s List” was formed as a pro-choice, Democratic women’s group, supporting women for North Carolina office and providing scholarships to women attending law school. Clement died of pneumonia at age thirty-eight and is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

The family of Lillian Exum Clement graciously allowed UNC Asheville’s Special Collections to make 25 digital copies of various images related to Clement and Asheville, which is titled the Stafford and Wingate L. Anders Collection. UNC Asheville is also the repository for an oral history with Nancie Stafford Anders, daughter of Lillian Exum Clement. Anders speaks on her Mother, some of Asheville’s history, and the development of the College Street area in downtown Asheville.

Across North Carolina, several universities and archives are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. In Asheville, there will be a two day symposium on this event. You Have to Start a Thing: North Carolina Women Breaking Barriers will feature speakers Thursday evening, September 12 and all day Friday, September 13 at Pack Memorial Library. This free event is sponsored by the UNC Asheville History Department and Pack Library. UNC Asheville History Faculty Dr. Daniel Pierce and Dr. Sarah Judson will be two guest speakers, and UNC Asheville History Alums Katherine Calhoun Cutshall and Catherine Amos will be presenting on Lillian Exum Clement and others like her- daring women who broke barriers and became catalysts for change in Asheville and the world beyond.

From the symposium program: “You Have to Start a Thing: North Carolina Women Breaking Barriers”

Sources:

Stafford and Wingate L. Anders Collection (027), D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

“Permanent Club is Organized by Women,” Asheville Citizen-Times, September 13, 1919.

Lake Lure at Chimney Rock: America’s Greatest Scenic Playground

Lake Lure and Chimney Rock have long been known as sanctuaries for relaxation and rejuvenation. The town of Lake Lure derives its existence from the Morse Family. In 1925, they established Carolina Mountain Power Company and funded the building of a dam on the Broad River, which created Lake Lure. The scenic beauty of the area also made the region a frequent location for tourists, and more interestingly, for the motion picture business.

A page in the picture book from the Morse Family Chimney Rock Collection

One of the oldest legacies in Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, other than the towering monolith from which Chimney Rock derives its name, is the Esmeralda Inn. The storied past of the Esmeralda dates to 1891 when Colonel Thomas Turner built the Inn. It was opened in 1892 and was used as the first stage coach stop in the area. The Inn was instrumental in luring tourists into the area.

A postcard of the Esmeralda Inn from Sixty Four Selected Views of Western North Carolina: “The Land of the Sky”; “America’s Beauty Spot” from the Southern Post Card Co., Asheville, N.C.

The Inn burnt to the ground in 1917, but was rebuilt on the original foundation. It then served as a post office for some time. The Inn was destroyed by fire again in 1996 just after a massive flood wiped out many of the businesses in Chimney Rock. It was rebuilt again with much of its original historic character restored.

The Inn was “discovered” around 1915, and became host to several motion picture makers and cast members such as Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, and Clark Gable, who used the Esmeralda as a hideout while in town filming.

On August 30, 1919, the Asheville Citizen-Times wrote about a “big feature” being filmed in the area. The actor Harry Morey and a company of vitagraph players resided at the Esmeralda Inn while filming The Man Who Might Have Been. According to the director of the company, the Esmeralda and surrounding area had been a “favorite location… for years,” and “its wonderful scenery, [was] so well suited to the production of pictures…”

Title page from the picture book from the Morse Family Chimney Rock Collection

Indeed, a number of movies were filmed in the area. Some of the more notable ones were Thunder Road, Firestarter, Dirty Dancing, My Fellow Americans, and The Last of the Mohicans.

UNC Asheville is the repository for the Morse Family Chimney Rock Collection. One unique piece that we happened upon in the collection is a picture book from the 1920’s entitled, “Lake Lure at Chimney Rock: A Pictureland.” The book references the Esmeralda Inn at the beginning:

A picturebook from the Morse Family Chimney Rock Park Collection; http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/mss/morse_family_chimney_rock_park/default_morse_family.html

“Frequent, indeed, were the tallyho parties that started out from the old Battery Park hotel, in Asheville, and found welcome at the fireside of the Esmeralda. It was at Chimney Rock that Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote her romantic drama, entitled ‘Esmeralda,’ and Christian Reid declared that here, indeed, was the crowing jewel of the ‘Land of the Sky.'”

Frances Christine Fisher Tiernan, pen name Christian Reid, would go on to write The Land of the Sky, a novel about “adventures in mountain by-ways,” in 1876. However, Reid, like many others who enjoyed visiting the area, likely could not foretell how truly popular and loved both the Esmeralda Inn and the Lake Lure and Chimney Rock areas would eventually become to The Land of the Sky.

Ashley McGhee Whittle, Special Collections

Sources:

Picture Book, Morse Family Chimney Rock Park, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.

Postcard of the Esmeralda Inn, Sixty Four Selected Views of Western North Carolina,  D. H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville.

“Harry Morey Comes to Esmeralda Inn,” Asheville Citizen-Times, August 30, 1919.

Esmeralda Inn History, https://theesmeralda.com/about-the-esmeralda-inn/esmeralda-inn-history/