“You Have to Start a Thing” a Quick Introduction to Some Self-Starting Ladies of Biltmore Village: 52 Weeks 52 Communities

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Lillian “Exum” Clement Stafford Takes a Car Ride, ca. 1920’s . MS249_002B.003

March is Women’s History Month, and I would never forgive myself if I didn’t share some of the amazing photos we have in our collection of some of the incredible women who lived their lives, in whole or part, in the Biltmore Village community.

Beyond the “Lady on the Hill” there are some fascinating stories to tell about women on and around the Biltmore Estate, but rather than dig into all that in a simple blog post, this will be a quick preview of some of the incredible women that grace the folders and mylar sleeves of our relevant collections.

Many know the story of Lillian “Exum” Clement Stafford. Born near Black Mountain and raised in Biltmore Village, she was the first female  legislator in the South, elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1920. Exum, she liked to be called, presented 17 bills to the NCGA that tended to favor the protection and rights of women and children. Perhaps the most controversial was a bill shortening the required separation time between a married couple before a wife could file for divorce from 10 years to five. Exum’s sister Nancy Rebecca Clement, or “Biddy,” made a name for herself working for the Red Cross in Asheville. Nancy was a nurse at the Oteen Hospital, and later, she became a carver at Biltmore Industries.

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Lillian Exum Clement Stafford and her Daughter, Nancy Stafford Anders. MS249_002B.001
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Lillian Exum Clement Stafford and her dog, Psyche. MS249_002B.002
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Biltmore Industries Carvers, including Nancy Rebecca Clement, center left, front row. MS249_002A.001
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Biltmore Industries Instructors Eleanor Vance and Charlotte Yale outside the Biltmore Industries Shop. MS249_002A.003

Both Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her mother Edith Vanderbilt were active in social and public life. They were both supporters of the arts and public welfare, and made the Biltmore Estate available for an annual picnic to celebrate graduates of the Buncombe County Adult Education program. Cornelia and Edith were also friendly with another early female political star, Leah Chiles, who became the first female mayor in North Carolina when she won the votes of the people of Kenilworth, then an independent municipality.

Cornelia Vanderbilt on the Grounds of the Biltmore Estate during a Buncombe County Adult Education event. B723-N.  (Take a close look at the “B” motif  about the knees on her dress)

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We love sharing our collections with you! We especially like when they get a good workout from researchers, the curious, and even the stray interior designer or stylist! These images and collections are as much yours as they are the library’s. That’s what public libraries are all about!

Come on in and take a look. You never know what you might find!

As a reminder, this post is a part of our 52 Weeks, 52 Communities Series. In this series, we are covering a different Buncombe County community each week. Do you have materials related to Biltmore Village (or some amazing women) you’d like to let us know about? Do you, your parents or grandparents have a good story to tell? Please let us know!!! We want to hear from you! The North Carolina Room is Buncombe County’s Public Archive, we want to help preserve and make accessible the history and culture of Asheville and Buncombe County for all its residents.

This post was authored by Katherine Calhoun Cutshall, a librarian working in the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library.

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