The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for the first time in history, yesterday endorsed the concept of federal child care legislation.

The chamber's board of directors adopted a policy resolution that essentially embraces the concepts contained in child care legislation proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The National Association of Manufacturers is expected to take a position on child care next week.

The child care issue has been catapulted high up on the nation's legislative agenda this year as the growing influence of working mothers has begun to have an impact on the political campaigns. Congressional supporters of child care now are convinced there could be legislation on President Reagan's desk by the end of the year.

Hatch, who has become a leading Republican proponent of child care, has introduced legislation to provide tax incentives for employers to set up child care centers. His bill also would limit the legal liability of child care operators and provide modest grants to help state and local governments establish facilities.

The chamber, while encouraging employers to deal with the issue on their own, said the federal role should be limited to addressing the legal liability problem and providing "incentives that improve the affordability and availability of child care."

"This is not a blanket endorsement of the Hatch approach," said Virginia Lamp Thomas, a labor relations specialist for the chamber. She added, however, that the business lobby "can support the thrust of what Sen. Hatch has come up with."

The chamber called on the federal government to "resist the temptation to mandate specific employee benefits, to regulate previously unregulated industries or to impose a costly and monolithic child care program."

Thomas said the chamber decided to take a position on child care because the issue appeared to be moving so fast in Congress that the organization might find itself left out of the debate if it did not act. She also said child care was fast becoming a necessary tool in recruiting workers.