“It has a been a strange perversion of women’s sphere – to make them work at producing the implements of war and destruction and to deny them the privilege of fashioning the munitions of peace.” Katharine Parsons

Katharine Parsons

Mary Rosse
Mary Rosse

Katharine Bethell (1859–1933) married Charles Parsons in 1883. Her daughter, Rachel, was born in 1885 and her son, Tommy, in 1886. Katharine was a member of the redoubtable Bethell family from the East Riding of Yorkshire, the youngest of the twelve children of William Froggatt Bethell and Maria Elizabeth (née Beckett). Their ancestral home was Rise Park (also known as Rise Hall), near Hull. After her marriage, Katharine became mistress of, successively, three large houses in Co. Durham and Northumberland, only one of which, Holeyn Hall in Wylam, survives today. The Parsons family also owned town houses in Newcastle and London.

Katharine Parsons took a keen interest in engineering and encouraged her daughter to become an engineer. She was prominent among the suffragettes of northeast England and a pioneer of the Girl Guides movement. In 1919, after the end of the First World War, she became the first female member of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders and gave a rousing speech about women engineers at the NECIES victory celebration after the First World War. With Rachel and Caroline Haslett, she was a co-founder of the Women’s Engineering Society, which still exists today.