Catherine E. Harrell, 83, a D.C. public school teacher and State Department secretary during the 1920s who was active in church and volunteer organizations, died of arteriosclerotic heart disease Saturday at Suburban Hospital.

Mrs. Harrell was a native of New York State who came to this area in 1903. She had been a resident of Bethesda for the past 40 years. She was a graduate of the Notre Dame Academy and a 1920 cum laude graduate of Trinity College here.

After a year as a secretary at the State Department, she taught English between 1921 and 1924 at Eastern High School and the old Business High School here.

She has been active in the Girl Scouts and the Georgetown Preparatory School's mothers club. She had been a member of the Kenwood Golf and Country Club for 40 years.

Mrs. Harrell was a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda, and its adoration society.

She was the widow of C. Gay Harrell, a Washington banker, who died in 1971.

Mrs. Harrell's survivors include a daughter, Mary H. McGinniss of Bethesda; three sons, Cornelius G., of Alexandria, John C., of Silver Spring, and Burton W., of Potomac; a sister, Marjorie Cobles of Washington; 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Trinity College Alumni Fund in Washington.