That’s when Clara Hale’s adult daughter, Lorraine, was driving down 146th Street and noticed a woman on the street nodding off with her infant slipping out of her arms.
Lorraine convinced the woman to temporarily give the baby to her mother, a 63-year-old Harlem widow who had raised her own three kids plus 40 foster children.
Word spread that “Mother” Hale was taking in babies. A stream of kids, born to addicts who could not care for them, were placed in her home, some sleeping in cribs in her bedroom.
“Aided by donations, a growing staff and volunteers, Hale House took in nearly 1,000 infants, many still trembling from withdrawal pangs after becoming addicted to drugs in the womb,” stated The New York Times in her 1992 obituary.
One donor was John Lennon, according to a Daily News article; in 1979 he gave Hale a $20,000 check and sent food and gifts the Christmas before his murder.
By the 1980s, Mother Hale had gained national recognition. And as the crack epidemic took hold in Harlem, she cared for even more infants, saving them from languishing in city hospitals.
“We hold them and touch them,” she once said about her approach to handling such fragile souls. “They love you to tell them how great they are, how good they are. Somehow, even at a young age, they understand that. They’re happy, and they turn out well.”
Under new leadership, Hale House still exists, helping children and families through a learning center and transitional housing program. A statue of Mother Hale out front reminds us of her calling.
A century before Mother Hale, New York’s foundlings were taken care of in a different setting.