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Mother Hale, Child Care Leader, Dies At 87

December 19, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Clara Hale, whose work to save drug-addicted babies and their parents brought her national recognition and the name ″Mother Hale,″ has died at 87.

Mrs. Hale died Friday at Mt. Sinai Hospital of complications from a stroke, said John Winkleman, a spokesman for Hale House.

Mrs. Hale’s work with hundreds of infants at Hale House won praise from across the country, from Harlem to the White House.

In 1969, she was 64 and ready to retire when she began the career that made her a symbol of nurturing and child care. With no formal training, Mrs. Hale’s treatment was simple: hands-on caring and love.

″It wasn’t their fault they were born addicted,″ she said. ″Love them. Help one another, love one another.″

It worked. More than 1,000 babies born to drug-addicted mothers benefited from her maternal love. President Reagan called her ″an American hero″ in his 1985 State of the Union speech.

The birth of Hale House was an accident. Mrs. Hale’s daughter, Lorraine, was driving on street in Harlem when she saw a woman seated on a crate with a baby in her lap. The woman was nodding in a drugged trance and in danger of dropping the child.

″In a great act of impetuousness, I got out of the car,″ Lorraine Hale recalled. ″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 for the care.

Word spread quickly, and within six months Mrs. Hale was caring for 22 drug-addicted babies. City officials tried to shut down her impromptu operation, so she asked for help.

With a federal grant, a vacant five-story brownstone was renovated and opened as Hale House. About 90 percent of the children treated there were reunited with their families after the babies recovered and the parents underwent treatment.

Lorraine Hale went on to get her doctorate in child development and is now Hale House’s president.

Clara McBride was born in Elizabeth City, N.C., on April 1, 1905. 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 she raised about 40 children, including one she adopted.

″I love children and I love caring for them,″ she once explained.

Hale House 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.

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