Clara Hale; Worked With Babies Born to Drug Addicts

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Clara Hale, whose work with hundreds of drug-addicted infants earned her the affectionate nickname “Mother” and accolades from Harlem to the White House, died Friday. She was 87.

Mrs. Hale died of complications from a stroke at Mt. Sinai Hospital, said John Winkleman, a spokesman for Hale House, which she founded in 1969.

Mrs. Hale was 64 and ready to retire when she began the second career that made her and Hale House a national symbol of nurturing and child care. She had no formal training; her treatment was simply hands-on caring and love.


“It wasn’t their fault they were born addicted. Love them. Help one another, love one another,” she once said in explaining the program’s philosophy.

It worked. More than 800 babies born to drug-addicted mothers benefited from her gentle touch and maternal love; President Ronald Reagan called her “an American hero” in his 1985 State of the Union speech.

Hale House started by accident. Mrs. Hale’s daughter, Lorraine, was driving in the Harlem section of New York when she saw a woman sitting on a crate with a baby in her lap. The woman was nodding in a drug trance and seemed about to drop the baby.

“In a great act of impetuousness, I got out of the car,” Lorraine Hale said. “I lectured her and told her to take the baby to my mother.”

The next day Mrs. Hale called her daughter and said, “There’s a junkie at my door and she says you sent her.”

Mrs. Hale nursed the child through withdrawal and told the mother there was no charge. Word spread quickly, and within six months Hale was caring for 22 drug-addicted babies.


City officials tried to shut her impromptu operation; she asked for help instead. With a federal grant, a vacant, city-owned, five-story brownstone was renovated and opened as Hale House.

A key principle was returning the children to their families after the babies recovered and the parents underwent treatment.

When Reagan praised Mrs. Hale’s work in his 1985 speech, she was a guest near Nancy Reagan in the visitors’ gallery of the House of Representatives.

“When the President called, I was sick, but I went anyway,” she said later. “I wanted the kids to see it and know it.” She recalled that she told her doctor, “When the President calls, I go.”

Clara McBride was born in Elizabeth City, N.C., on April 1, 1905, and soon moved to Philadelphia. She was orphaned at 16.

Two years out of high school, she married Thomas Hale and had two children. The family moved to New York City; he began a floor-waxing business, she did domestic work.


Widowed at 27, Mrs. Hale started taking care of children for $2 a week. She became a licensed foster parent in 1940 and estimated that she raised about 40 children, including one she adopted.

After nearly four decades of giving foster care, Mother Hale was ready to retire--until fate and her daughter stepped in.

“I love children and I love caring for them,” she once said. “Everyone comes into the world to do something. . . . This is what the Lord meant me to do.”

New arrivals were placed in cribs in Mrs. Hale’s bedroom, where she could rock them when they cried out in the agony of withdrawal. Once they could sleep peacefully, they were moved to another floor where other workers cared for them until they could go home.

Hale House later developed programs for pregnant addicts and AIDS-infected babies.

The home continues to serve children referred from private agencies or word of mouth.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two sons, Nathan and Kenneth.