VICE PRESIDENT Walter Mondale's wife, Joan, was one of those under consideration for the honor, but this year's "Woman of the Year" award from the Woman's National Democratic Club is going to Ambassador W. Averell Harriman's wife, Pamela.

The selection is not unanimously popular, although those in opposition have been too ladylike so far to do more than telephone nominating committee members to ask questions.

How did Pamela Harriman qualify for an award given in past to Barbara Jordan and Rosalynn Carter?

What achievements of Harriman's overshadowed Joan Mondale's work in the arts?

Those pushing Harriman's award point to the fact that she has been a "phenomenal" fund-raiser for the Democratic House and Senate campaigns and for individual candidates.

One committe member says Harriman also won a lot of support for "being very dedicated to the club . . . never refusing to fill in . . . to sit at the head table . . . to have her husband fill in for a speaker or make an introduction."

"She's never before been honored for herself alone," one committe member says. "And I think that's unfortunate."

Harriman herself says she is "overwhelmed" with the award and finds it "absolutely amazing."

She is amused and not surprised that there should be a few raised eyebrow.

"My age group has a lot of problems in never having been elected to office ourselves. People say, how can Rosalynn Carter represent the country when she has never been elected to office herself."

She doesn't type. She doesn't take shorthand. She doesn't file. She seldom comes to the office.

She's oklahoma Rep. Tom Steed's "confidential" secretary. But she's no Elizabeth Ray.

Myrtle Carr, 78 has been carried on the 77-year-old Steed's Capital Hill payroll since 1963, he confirmed last week.

Her work is so confidential that some of his staff don't know what she does, Steed says. He has a lot of top-secret documents, he explains, and Carr acts as "a caretaker for certain documents I don't want kept here."

Carr, mother of Steed's longtime administrative secretary, Thelma Fogleman, and the grandmother of steed's godson, is worth more than the $3,000 a year he pays her, Steed says. "She certainly knows how to keep a secret," he says. "Look how long it took the press to even find out she works here."

Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt talks so fast that back in Portland they used to call him "The Rat-A-Tat-Tat Mayor." At a recent seminar in Berkeley, Calif., a sign-language specialist brought in to translate his remarks for those in the audience with hearing problems complained of finger fatigue and had to have a relief back-up. h

A former KCIA friend of Koreagate's Tongsun Park claims it was worry that put him in the hospital here recently. Not so, says one of Park's attorneys. A pinched nerve was the reason Park checked into Georgetown, where doctors put him into traction.

There are now more than 1,000 visiting scholars from the People's Republic of China studying in the U.S.

They are under intense pressure from Peking to excel, says a source familiar with the program. As a result, he claims, there have been "several breakdowns" and recently, one suicide in the embassy here.

On March 15, Yuan Wei Lu, a 39-year-old research fellow in physics at Brown University, was ruled a suicide by D.C. homicide officers summoned to the embassy. No details are being made public at the request of the embassy, a police spokesman said.

But a highly placed source in the Chinese community here says a message of protest has been sent home from diplomats about the "callous" and "unfeeling" way students are being handled.

Former DNC official John Golden's friends on the Carter/Mondale campaign committee say he has followed his buddy White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan's example and is now leading a very quiet and circumspect private life. In fact, friends say that Golden, whose phone doesn't even have an answering device to take reporters' questions, is getting married.

Barbara Walters could take her daughter Jacqueline to Gloria Vanderbilt's showroom to buy jeans. Certainly to Bendel's or Bergdorf's or Bloomingdale's. But there they were last Saturday shopping like suburbanites at a Gap in midtown Manhattan.