Katharine Symonds, the daughter of the historian, John Addington Symonds and Janet Catherine, was born on 23rd November 1875. Educated by governesses and her mother she spent most of her early life in Switzerland and Italy.
Katharine had intended to train as a hospital nurse but after meeting the artist, Charles Wellington Furse, she changed her plans. The couple were married in 1900 but Furse died four years later leaving her with two young children.
In 1909 Katharine Furse joined the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment that was attached to the Territorial Army. On the outbreak of the First World War Furse was chosen to head the first Voluntary Aid Detachment unit to be sent to France. Aware of her administrative abilities, the authorities decided to place Furse in charge of the VAD Department in London. By 1916 she was appointed Commander-in-Chief and the following year became one of the five women appointed Dame Grand Cross, a newly created Order of the British Empire.
Although considered a great success as head of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, Furse was unhappy about her lack of power to introduce reforms. In November 1917, Furse and several of her senior colleagues resigned. Furse was immediately offered the post as Director of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS).
The Royal Navy was the first of the armed forces to recruit women and since 1916 the Women's Royal Naval Service took over the role of cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, code experts and electricians. The women were so successful that other organizations such as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the Women's Royal Air Force were also established.
After the war Furse joined the travel agency of Sir Henry Lunn. Working mainly in Switzerland, Furse became an expert skier and did a great deal to popularize the sport with British tourists. He achievements were acknowledged when she became President of the Ladies' Ski Club.
In 1920 formed the Association of Wrens and this led to her becoming head of the Sea Rangers and for ten years was director of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Her autobiography, Hearts and Pomegranates was published in 1940. Katharine Furse died in London on 25th November, 1952.