She's the nouvelle political wife.

Instead of working at the dinning room table, she has a government office.

Instead of giving out recipes, she gives out opinions.

Instead of claiming that her family is her only interest, she has a special interest project going.

The nouvelle political wife may be an invention of the times - a new way for a wife to serve as helpmate to her ambitious husband without appearing to be embarrassingly domestic or subservient. But she sprang to life in the Carter White House.

And that's where Nancy Moore, Nancy Jordan and Nan Powell work now. These three, wives of top presidential aides, have all left careers as school teachers to work as volunteers in Posalynn Carter's large office operation.

That's where Edith "Kit" Dobelle brings the wives of state visitors, whose American tours are in her care, and works out the giving of state gifts, a function of her husband's job as chief of protocol.

And of course, that's where the First Lady runs the ceremonial functions of government, as her predecessors have done, but also her office as de facto chairwoman of the President's Commission on Mental Health, his special diplomatic envoy, and his ambudsman on the problems of inner cities. To do all that is expected of her requires staff assistance of 17 persons.

And there, in the Executive Office Building, is where the vice president's wife, Joan Mondale, has a full-time support staff of four overseeing her efforts as the administration's representative to the arts and its ombudsman for artist and craftsmen. Now, in addition, President Carter yesterday named her honorary chairperson of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

The idea has spread elsewhere. Edwina Dalton set up a small office - "a little table stuck over in the corner" - in her husband's office a few days after he was inaugurated governor of Virginia. Valerie Richardson Jackson received a public payment of $1 from her husband's pocket the day he, as mayor of Atlanta, appointed her to be a marketing and advertising consultant to the city.

The word "team" is used a lot by husbands and wives to describe their joint contributions to his job. It sounds remarkably like the old two-for-the-price-of-one deal traditionally expected of the diplomatic wife and the corporation wife.

Is this deal a fair one - for the women who do not work without salary and some without title, for the taxpayers who help subsidize their offices, for the individuals who may aspire to fill such jobs themselves but lack the marital connection?

Implicit in the allocation of these jobs through marriage is the assumption that no one but the job holder and her husband will decide whether she is performing competently.

Joan Mondale says, perhaps with excessive modesty, that "I would not have qualified" to be the White House arts advocate on her own. And while she has been generally respected in the position, she herself sees the danger of an unqualified person taking on such a function.

The team of high official and unpaid working spouse does not seem to apply if the official is a married woman.

Neither of the two women in the Cabinet, Patricia Robert Harris of Housing and Urban Development, or Juanita Krebs of Commerce, has given her husband an office in her department so he can help her do the job.

When Harris was ambassador to Luxembourg, her husband was paid $100 a day and travel expenses as a legal consultant to the State Department. When Ann Armstrong was ambassador to Great Britain, her husband, Tobin, has an office in the embassy, but it was as a special adviser to the Department of Agriculture, with his expenses paid by the government.

Robert Chambers resigned as chairman of the Cox Broadcasting Company when his wife, Anne Cox Chambers, was appointed ambassador to Belgium. But it was to play golf and shoot, not oversee ceremonial functions at the embassy.

A woman friend of the ambassador came along to do that. Emily White, not being an ambassador's wife, was paid $26,022 by the Department of State to do "what an ambassador's wife does," according to her boss. "And an ambassador's wife works very hard," added the ambassador.

For years, foreign service wives did those jobs, without pay and whether they wanted to or not, to help their husbands' careers. Then, in 172, the State Department ruled that dependents were no longer obliged to perform representational services for the United States government.

Some, however, have continued to do so, either voluntarily or because there was no one else to fill the gap. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance recently recommended that a major study be undertaken on compensating spouses for this work. "I do not believe we can continue to ignore this issue," he said, while recognizing the legal and financial difficulties of depending on spouse labor.

But compensation for spouses would not solve the problem of the foreign service officer, or other top job holder, who is unable to supply female labor to perform ceremonial functions which are a necessary part of his or her job. That is a category that includes all women job-seekers, as sell as bachelors or men whose wives do not wish to participate in their careers.

Evan Kit Dobelle says that his job as the U.S. chief of protocal could be performed as effectively without her full-time participation. The president asked them to work "as a team," they said, although it was clear that the compensation and title would go to Evan Dobelle alone.

The Carters often speak of themselves as a "team." Mrs. Carter says she enjoys the party planning that is expected of all first ladies, and doesn't feel she is obliged to do it. But the second lady, Joan Mondale, who doesn't like that part of the job, says she thinks that a first lady who didn't would find the "pressures on her would be so great. People would say, 'Well, she doesn't love her husband.'"

Neither the first nor second lady is compensated for her work, and although both have staffs, there is no statutory provision for these people, who are paid out of the president and vice president's budgets. Now, for the first time, there is congressional legislation seeking authorization for salaries, which currently amount to $427,000 a year for the first lady's staff and $112,000 for the second's lady.

"Now there will be no chance for a bad first lady because there will be congressional oversight of her staff," said Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) who did not, however, explain how a bad first lady could be replaced by Congress.

At the beginning of the administration, Mrs. Carter called in the wives of top officials and asked them to help out.

Nancy Moore, whose husband, Frank, is head of the president's congressional liaison, signed up to allot spaces in the Kennedy Center boxes, which are at the White House's disposal. "I like to think that by being there in the middle of the day, I'm helping my husband to do his job," she said. "Two can cover more ground than one. If I see something good, I can pass it on to Frank's staff."

"I don't know if what I do is specifically a help," said Nan Powell, wife of press secretary Jody Powell, who is interested in children's White House tours. "But I think it benefits us personally, that I can feel I'm part of what's going on down there." She, Nancy Moore and Nancy Jordan are all school teachers by profession, but for personal reasons find the White House volunteer jobs more suitable here than working in the Washington school system.

Nancy Jordan was an important worker in the Carter campaign (she and Dot Padgett ran the Peanut Brigade) but there was never any question of her being offered a paying job when here husband became the presidential's top political adviser and Padgett was named assistant chief of protocol.

Now Jordan, who works a full week in the East Wing of the White House, is separated from her husband, who still gets the only family salary.

In most instances, the volunteer jobs end if the marriage does, or if the husband loses an election. The wife may get official status only if she loses the husband - through death, not divorce.

Muriel Humphrey, a lifelong U.S. Senate "helpmate," became a senator herself because her husband died. But if she decides to seek election, she will have to advance claims of qualifications she had heretofore suppressed.

Joan Mondale said she was regarded as "doing nothing but showing up publicly" all the years she was, in fact, helping run her husband's campaign, and has only now received credit for what she does "because my husband takes me seriously and backs me so that others do, too."

But Nancy Jordan believes that isn't necessary. A person gets credit for the work she does whether or not she has the job title, she says, and a prospective employer would not feel that "because you're not paid, you're not any good."