A question for our time: What does a two-career couple do when the wife gets an attractive offer in another town?

And a footnote: Is there a special providence in a Byzantine scholar being named president of a college?

When Elizabeth T. Kennan, a Medievalist at Catholic University, was offered the presidency of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., this winter, she asked for time to think. Her husband, Martin L. Budd, is director of the Special Study of Options Market at the Security and Exchange Commission. A New Yord lawyer, he had moved here only a few months earlier to take the prestigious post - and to court the 39-year-old widow. They were married last summer.

"We were very concerned that this be a joint move," she said. "The college was extremely supportive and helpful, and they understood that we wanted to solve Martin's career before accepting. A college presidency is a big family job, after all."

As she said, the waters aren't charted on this kind of situation. Many employers haven't yet faced the fact that it will be increasingly a concern, especially and prestige are an reer satisfactions and prestige are an issue.

"Acually, we're rather fortunate," said Budd. "Before I joined the commission I had dealt with this law firm in Hartford and was thinking of joining it. But then the offer from the commission came along, and I took that instead. So when this came up I called the Hartford people again."

He will be a partner in private practice with the firm.

"My experiences to date have taught me that one's not going to plan out one's life in advance," he added. "One has to be flexible and see what the opportunities are. Your personal individual advancement isn't always the most important thing, and if each spouse is interested in what the other is doing, if they share a good portion of what they do and look at these things as family things, then it's not so difficult."

There may be some delay before he can join her at the president's mansion in South Hadley this summer, but both of them see that as merely a temporary hardship.

Meanwhile, there is the large, airy white house on Broad Branch Road facing a hillside of trees. The place is full of books: Medieval histories, poetry, a Catholic encyclopedia. A mahogany sideboard, a glassed-in reading room, antique stuffed chairs: the look of quiet affluence.

Kennan herself appeared unhurried, though she had a series of student conferences set all afternoon. Humor flashed from green eyes. She spoke casually, as one who doesn't take herself too seriously. (Is it possible to own three dogs and take oneself too very seriously?)

There are also two horses, boarded in Potomac - she belongs to the Potomac Hunt - and in the alley were parked two refreshingly untidy cars, one of which had a flat.

Aside from a one-day-a-week cleaning woman, she does all the cooking and other work around the house. At Mount Holyoke, where she will need rather more help in entertaining and so on. the board showed some concern that a woman president might require extra support funds. The committee picked her unanimously, however, from 450 candidates.

She was married for 11 years to Robert M. Kennan Jr., a distinguished conservationist lawyer, who died at 35 in 1973, leaving her with a son who is now 10. A professor at Catholic since earning he doctorate in 1967, she is director of Medical and Byzantine Studies and of the Program in Early Christian Humanism.

She sees the situation of working wives in terms of her academic discipline.

"It's only since the Industrial Revolution that women have been leisured at home. In the Middle Ages women ran the castle, organized supplies and food, made clothes, educated the children. The peasants worked in the fields. In no case were women free to spend 95 percent of their time raising children. The idea of expecting women to concentrate all their energies on their children is a recent thing, it's skewed the normal relationships. We're now having to go through enormous readjustments to change that."

In the early 4the Century, she remarked, many Roman aristocrats converted to Christianity. This was partly because of energetic leadership by the high-born women of Rome, who had studied the scriptures with St. Jerome ("he taught them Hebrew so they could approach it as equals") and then traveled to Palestine and as far as Egypt to talk with holy men.

"They brought back concepts of asceticism that must have something of a shock to Rome. The thing was, they were an important factor in the life of their time."

The problems of the working wife are of course nothing new to this 1960 Mount Holyoke graduate. She has had plenty of time to see the many curious ways that the idea of women being "equal but different" is interpreted. Much of the credit for her poised competence she traces to the atmosphere of a women's college.

"At a women's college I think you have more time to learn to know yourself, you're not always testing yourself against an external (that is, male) norm of equality. You gain a certain self'confidence. There's also a feeling of sisterhood that can extend over the generations, that gives you an idea of the importance of friendships.

The idea of a Medievalist being names president of a college may seem to some rather eccentric, if charming, but Kennan pointed out that several historians recently have taken over college presidencies. "I have an idea it's relevant." she said. "Historians study how institutions survive and how people relate in political situations."

Her prime concern as an educator is very much in line with Mount Holyoke's: "the achievement of full literacy, meaning not just the ability to communicate but to think clearly." The problem is not by any means limited to college freshmen: Four years ago she ran a remedial institute for postdoctoral Medievalists, teaching them such basics in the field as how to date old manuscripts, how to detect forgeries and so forth.

"In the next decade there are going to be some hard decisions in the world of the private liberal arts college," she said. "And this is the time for people within the academic community to come to its aid with leadership."