Born: February 8, 1879
Died: March 29, 1949
Helen Houston Homans was born February 8, 1879 in Englewood. Her father, Sheppard Homans Sr., was an insurance executive who founded the Provident Savings Life Assurance Company. Her older brother, Sheppard Jr.—whom she called “Shep”—was a star football player who achieved All-America status playing fullback for Princeton in 1890 and 1891. Shep’s son, Gene Homans, would grow up to become a champion golfer.
Helen and Shep were both avid tennis players. By the time she was in her 20s, she could hold her own against him, which was saying something: Shep won the New York indoor tennis title in 1903. Helen was an accomplished singles and doubles player by this time. A year earlier, she had begun partnering with Marshall McLean, a 30-something Long Island lawyer in mixed doubles events. They were married in 1907.
In 1905, Helen won the U.S. Doubles Championship with Carrie Neely, who had won the same title in 1903 with Bessie Moore. In 1906, Helen entered the U.S. Singles Championship in Philadelphia and defeated Rachel Harlan, Edith Rotch and Maud Barger Wallach to win the “all-comers” draw. Because Moore, the 1905 champion, declined to defend her title, Helen was automatically awarded the top prize in American tennis.
Helen continued to play at a high level for another decade. In 1915, the U.S. Championship relocated from Newport to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills—Helen and Marshall’s tennis club. She entered the doubles draw with Augusta Chapman, a tennis-playing socialite in her 40s. They advanced all the way to the finals, where they fell to Hazel Wightman and Eleonora Sears. Helen continued playing competitively into her 50s. She passed away in 1949 at the age of 70.