The story of Hale House Center begins with one woman: Clara McBride Hale.
Clara Hale’s remarkable legacy of caring for children started nearly 70 years ago when at the age of 33, Mrs. Hale became a widow and was left to raise three children on her own. She started caring for other children in her home to make a living to provide a home and education for her own family.
After providing day care and respite care services, Mrs. Hale became a licensed foster parent in 1960 and took even more children into her home. It was during this time that she earned the affectionate title, “Mother Hale”.
Mother Hale considered retirement at the age of 64 until a young mother appeared on her doorstep for help in 1969. The mother was addicted to heroin and could not care for her newborn. Mother Hale took in the baby and renewed her extraordinary commitment to serving babies and families going through difficult times. Within six months, she was again caring for babies in her home – and Hale House was born.
A few years later, Mother Hale acquired a brownstone in Harlem with the support of local officials. Mother Hale and the children she cared for at the time moved into their new home on 122nd Street, still a Hale House site today.
With each decade, Hale House Center has responded to challenges that struggling families have had to endure due to the devastating effects of poverty.
During the 1970s, the scope of work initiated by Hale House expanded to include services for at-risk children and their families. In the 1980s, as the urban drug problem gave way to the AIDS crisis, Hale House responded by taking in children whose lives were affected. In the 1990s, America’s drug problem spawned a grim new reality throughout the nation – an increase in the number of incarcerated women who were unable to care for their children.
Although Mother Hale’s direct impact was felt locally, her influence spread far and wide. She received more than 375 awards and 15 honorary degrees in her lifetime.
In January 1985, President Ronald Reagan recognized Mother Hale as an “American Hero” in his State of the Union Address for her tremendous work in Harlem and her vision for social change.
Even when a full-time staff was in charge of the organization, Mother Hale continued to live with and care for the children at the brownstone until she passed away on December 18, 1992. More than 2000 people, including local and national leaders, attended her funeral to honor her life.
For 87 years, Mother Hale led a life filled with compassion, dedication and strength that characterize the powerful legacy of Hale House. The spirit of Mother Hale lives on through the children who thrived in her loving arms and through the child-centered, family-focused initiatives that Hale House Center continues to offer to the community.
About Mother Hale
Clara McBride Hale, April 1, 1905 – December 18, 1992
Clara McBride Hale was born April 1, 1905 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After completing high school, she married Thomas Hale. Together they had two children—a son, Nathan and a daughter, Lorraine—and the family moved to New York City where they lived and worked until he died tragically in Philadelphia in 1938.
At the age of 33, Mrs. Hale, now a widow, proceeded to make a living and care for her two children. During the remainder of the Depression and thereafter until the late 1950s, Clara struggled to provide a home for her children and remained focused on providing them with the best education that she could afford. During that same time, Clara Hale began caring for other children in her home, providing loving care to children in need, and ensuring that their educations were not neglected. She helped find permanent homes for homeless children and guided parents at critical junctures in their lives. In 1960, after providing day care, and what we know today as ‘respite care’ services for many years, she became a licensed foster parent and took even more children into her home. Beginning in the 1940s and during the ensuing years she provided long- and short-term care for many children. It was during this time that she earned the affectionate title of “Mother Hale”—the name by which she is still fondly known.
In 1969 at the age of 64, Mother Hale was prepared to retire when one day her daughter, Lorraine, encountered a woman on a street corner having difficulty holding her baby and obviously in need of assistance. Lorraine stopped and explained to the woman that if she needed help caring for her child that Mother Hale would happily lend a hand. She gave the woman her mother’s address, and on the next day, the mother and child appeared at Mother Hale’s door.
It was evident to Mother Hale that the mother was a substance abuser; and so that baby became the first of many babies born exposed to drugs or alcohol to be nurtured by Mother Hale. Within six months she was again caring for babies in her small apartment. This marked the birth of Hale House.
A few years later, Mother Hale, with the help of her daughter and some very supportive local elected officials acquired a brownstone in Harlem. Mother Hale and the children she cared for at that time moved to their new home, which is still the site of Hale House today.
During the 1970s, the scope of work initiated by Mother Hale increased to include many programs for at-risk children and their families. In the 1980’s, as the urban drug problem gave way to the AIDS crisis, Mother Hale responded by taking in children who had lost their parents to the disease or who were themselves born infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
In the 1990s and today, the drug problem spawned a grim new reality now widespread throughout America – an increase in the number of women incarcerated and, consequently, unable to care for their children. With each decade, Mother Hale and Hale House have responded to the challenges struggling families have had to endure due to the crippling effects of poverty. Hale House was the first institution to cast a spotlight on the most innocent victims of the drug crisis. It was also fighting on the frontlines of the AIDS epidemic, before people even knew the name of the disease.
Over the years, Mother Hale received more than 370 awards and was publicly recognized across the nation. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan recognized Mother Hale at his State of the Union Address for her remarkable and tireless work with at-risk children and families. Mother Hale attended and accepted this honor with the humility and reserve for which she was well-known.
During the Address, he stated to Mother Hale and to the entire nation, "Harlem and all of New York needs a local hero. Mother Hale, you are the one." He declared Mother Hale "an American hero, whose life tells us that the oldest American saying is new again: Anything is possible in America if we have the faith, the will and the heart."
Mother Hale passed away on 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 Wednesday, December 23rd and it was a service filled with music, singing and rejoicing. Over 2000 people mourned her passing and celebrated her life that day 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.
Mother Hale believed, unconditionally, that all children, from all walks of life and circumstances, need and deserve love. With this love they will not only survive, but will overcome the hardships into which they are born.
Today Clara McBride Hale’s steadfast commitment to this belief symbolizes the legacy of “Mother Hale’s Way” and Hale House.
*Marlene Aig, The Associated Press, 12/24/92 – The Daily Gazette
Board & Staff
Hale House congratulates Zachary W. Carter on his appointment as New York City’s Corporation Counsel – the chief lawyer for NYC – by Mayor Bill de Blasio. After years of fighting for fairness in our criminal justice system, it’s a well-deserved appointment. We know he will serve the City of New York with the dedication and commitment he has shown to the children and families of Hale House over the course of his 13 years as Chairman of the Board. Without his tireless support, Hale House would not be the organization it is today.
Mr. Carter stepped down from Hale House's board following his appointment. It has been a privilege working closely with him and we wish him the best of luck in his new role.
Stepping into Zach’s very large shoes as Chairman of the Board is an old friend of Hale House, Randolph McLaughlin. Randolph served as the Executive Director of our organization from 2004 to 2010, and was Counsel to Hale House from 2001 to 2004. He is currently Of Counsel at Newman Ferrara LLP and a professor at Pace University School of Law. We’re happy to have him back and are looking forward to the experience and knowledge he brings to Hale House!
Board of Directors
Chairman of the Board/Treasurer:: Randolph M. McLaughlin, Esq. Newman Ferrara, LLP
Secretary: Dominic Freud, Freud Pizenberg Independent Advisors
Janice Innis-Thompson, TIAA-CREF
Neil H. Wilcox, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
Rita Zimmer, Housing+Solutions, Inc.