Until 1917, the gates to the White House were open to the public, and anyone could wander in for a stroll about the grounds.

Then came the break in relations with Germany on the eve of World War I, and the gates were closed and guarded, German aliens were banned from Washington. Vigilante groups, such as the semiofficial: American Protective League, were organized; and police were swamped with anonymous - and often malicious - reports of suspicious acts of disloyalty.

"War Against Freedom," an exhibit at the Woodrow Wilson House, may deal with the World War I period, but it is as current as today's concern about freedoms that are compromised in times of political and social upheaval.

"If there is any lesson in this, it is that most of the government leaders meant well and thought they were doing what had to be done for national security. And the public really accepted the infringement of their freedoms," noted Robert Mawson, the exhibit's organizer.

It was during World War I that the poster became the chief means of mass communication. This was the time of the propaganda campaign waged by the Committee on Public information. Posters in the exhibit appeal for men to enlist or for the public to buy Liberty bonds.

it is an exhibit for those who have the time and motivation to read captions and to absorb information that offers some fascination footnotes on history.

The Woodrow Wilson House, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is making a speciality of exhibits to highlight the local history of Washington as a city.

The Woodrow Wilson House is at 2340 S St. NW. The "War Against Freedom" exhibit is open through March 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. There is a $1.50 admission charge for adults and 50 cents for children and senior citizens.