First lady Nancy Reagan, right, and Maureen Reagan, daughter of the President, applaud Jean Nguyen, second from left, and “Mother” Clara Hale, during President Reagan’s State of the Union speech, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 1985, Washington, D.C. Reagan hailed the two guests as demonstration of the axiom “Anything is possible in America.” The 79-year-old Hale of Harlem works with infants born to heroin addicts. Nguyen arrived in the United States 10 years ago as a refugee from Vietnam and is now graduating from the West Point Military Academy. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Clara Hale, affectionately known as “Mother Hale,” was a notable humanitarian and caretaker of foster children born to drug addicted parents. After opening her home to small children in the 1940s to be closer to her family and make ends meet, the gesture would morph into her eventual calling to open up the Hale House Center in the late 1960s.
Today, NewsOne celebrates the life of Clara Hale on her birthday.
Hale was born in Elizabeth City, N. C., with her parents moving to Philadelphia when she was young. As a baby, Hale’s father passed and her mother had to take in temporary renters to keep her and her siblings clothed and fed. Hale remarked that her mother’s capacity to care for her children and others would inspire her later in life. After completing high school, Hale would marry and moved to New York City. Unfortunately her husband would succumb to cancer, leaving her to care for her children Lorraine and Nathan.
Working as a domestic, Hale began to take in children in her Harlem neighborhood after school. The children were often so attached to Hale that they didn’t want to return to their own homes. Eventually, she began keeping some of children during the week and took them to their parents on weekends. Other parents struggled much as Hale did, so she continued the care-taking service. However, it was her becoming a licensed foster parent that would change the course of her life.
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In 1960, Hale became an official foster parent and she cared for hundreds of children at her home over the years. Known then as Mother Hale, she became a solid landing ground for some of the troubled and under-served youth in Harlem. In 1969, the 64-year-old Hale would become a foster parent to a child born to a cocaine addict. The baby also had the affliction, leading her to open the Hale House to dozens of other children who were addicted to drugs. Hale’s innovative center also served as a shelter and rehabilitation center for drug-addicted mothers, who were required to stay at Hale House until they showed improvement.
In the 1980s, the explosion of drug culture and the rise of HIV negatively affected young mothers and children. In response, Hale would expand her services to care for young mothers and babies suffering with HIV and those children who lost parents to AIDS. In 1991, Hale was said to have cared for over 1,000 children and infants during the inception of the center.
Winning various awards and recognized widely for her charitable acts, Hale would later receive a posthumous tribute from President Ronald Reagan. Hale passed away December 18, 1992. Her daughter Lorraine Hale carried on her mother’s work until 2001.
Hale’s legacy as a selfless caretaker of the less fortunate children of New York City still serves as an inspiration to those in the foster care industry and beyond. The Hale House Center stands today as a living testimony to Ms. Hale’s amazing body of work.
Happy Birthday and Rest In Powerful Peace, Mother Hale!