For a minute it had sounded like the old sorority rush -- the "new girls"on campus torn between the choices, the "old girls" putting on the pressure and the moment of decision everybody was waiting for.

"Public Works and Transportation," announced New York Democrat Geraldine Ferraro with finality, the relief that comes with decision spreading across her face. "Public Works and Transportation is not the one that's going to do it, but..."

"You're elected as a member of the House," Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) assured her. "No matter what your own interests may be, your major interest is your district."

Ferraro, like two other newly elected women members of Congress, was making her debut appearance as a fledgling Washington official last night.

It happened at a hail and farewell party given by The Congresswomen's Caucus at The Democratic Club on Capitol Hill. For the three newcomers -- Maryland Democrat Beverly B. Byron, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and Ferraro -- the occasion also happened to coincide with a day when committee assignments were being made on the Hill.

Rep. Gladys Spellman (D.Md.) had won a seat on the House Democratic Policy and Steering Committee, filling a vacancy left by Shirley Chisholm, and if she wasn't recruiting outright at the party for spots on Ways and Means or Judiciary, she admitted, laughingly, "We're searching."

She said that losing five women in the House while gaining three "shows us that we still have difficulty electing women, that women aren't running in large enough numbers, aren't well enough financed and have to bring a constituency with them. They can't come from nowhere like men can."

Boggs knew the feeling Ferraro had experienced earlier in the day."Everybody was saying there had to be somebody on Ways and Means, to take the spot left by Martha Keys. I'm on Appropriations, so I wanted her to choose that. But as hard as I rushed her for Appropriations, she's right."

Joan Mondale, an honored guest along with the three newcomers and four retirees present (Reps. Yvonne Burke of California, Martha Keys of Kansas, Helen Meyner of New Jersey and Shirley Pettis of California) helped put a little perspective into an otherwise "bittersweet" evening, as Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) called it.

"The nice thing about coming to Washington," said Mondale, "is that everyone here has been through it once before."

"Don't leave the body politic," Mondale urged the retirees. "Shore up the old girls' network."