Clara McBride Hale (April 1, 1905 – December 18, 1992), also known as Mother Hale, was an American humanitarian who founded the Hale House Center, a home for unwanted children and children who were born addicted to drugs.
Clara married shortly after high school and moved to New York City where she studied business administration, cleaned, and worked as a domestic.
She was 27 when her husband died. She had three children, Nathan, Lorraine and adopted son Kenneth. In 1938, her husband died from cancer, and Hale struggled to support her children through the Great Depression.
Her rough life made it hard to financially support and care for her three children, consequently she had to find a job. Hale cleaned houses and continued her job as a janitor, laboring day and night to make ends meet.
Hale was living in Harlem, New York, where she retired from working as a domestic and started her work by beginning to help addicted children in 1969.
Although Hale had originally opened her house as a way of making a living, it eventually led her to find her life calling. She took babies addicted to heroin into her home, and within months, she was caring for 22 infants.
Hale became known for the work she did and became known as a mother to those who did not have one. At the age of 65 is when Hale began to take children in who were born addicted to their mother’s drug habits during pregnancy.
This started in 1969 when Clara Hale’s biological daughter, Lorraine, brought a mother and child who were addicted to drugs to Hale’s home. She later got a home license as a “child care facility” in 1970, called the Hale House.
A few years later Hale purchased a larger building, a “5 story home so there could be more space and more room to fit more” and in 1975 she was able to attain a license in child-care. It was officially known as Hale House. After that time, Hale devoted her life to caring for needy children.
She took in children, free of charge, who were addicted to drugs and helped them through their addictive periods. She would raise the children as if they were her own and once they were healthy she would help to find families interested in adoption.
She took it upon herself to make sure the families were a correct fit and even in some cases turned families down if she thought they could not provide a good enough home for the child.
She eventually helped over 1,000 drug addicted babies and young children who were born addicted to drugs, children born with HIV, and children whose parents had died of AIDS. It was simple, she said; “hold them, rock them, love them and tell them how great they are.”
Later her work with kids extended beyond just the care. Many programs were created for children and families to help them more. Some examples are Community-Based Family; which is a program for troubled youngsters; Time-Out-Moms, a program that helps the parents out by having a place for their kids when their parents needed to relax or breathe.
In addition, the Hale House launched research programs about problems of drug- or alcohol-addicted mothers and their infants to help educate the problems they can face.
Families also went to this home that were infected with HIV, and also the Hale house established programs for housing, educating, and supporting mothers after detoxification.
Shortly before her death in New York City, she kept at least one infant in her own room. She died of complications of a stroke December 18, 1992 at the age of 87. According to Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister at Riverside Church where she and her family were members, “She left instructions that there be no sad funerals.”
Her funeral took place on December 23 with over 2,000 people in attendance, including Mayor David Dinkins, US Senator Alfonse D’Amato, former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, US Representative Charles Rangel, Adam Clayton Powell IV, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Dr. Calvin O. Butts, Yoko Ono and her son, Sean Lennon. *This roster shows the scope of respect this extraordinary woman had gained in the world for her work to positively influence so many children, their families and the entire Harlem community.