Pamela Harriman got an award from the Woman's National Democratic Club last night, and generally speaking, everyone was quite ladylike about it.

Almost everyone.

"I was a little bit surprised," said club member Virginia Hightower, referring to the organization's selection of Harriman as Woman of the Year. "But I'm going to take a firm neutral stand." She bit into a chicken wing.

"I don't know what she's done," she continued, "but she's having this big dinner for Mrs. Carter. And as my father used to say, "Every church needs friends, saints and paying sinners."

Where Pamela Harriman fell among those three categories depended on who you talked to, although most of the 250 guests seemed to be opting for saint. Superlatives about the 60-year old beauty and Democratic fundraiser, who's been admired by scores of dashing rich men and married to Randolph Churchill, producer Leland Hayward and now statesman W. Averell Harriman, erupted like Mount St. Helens.

"Just a wonderful person," said Rosalynn Carter, who was whisked through the New Hampshire Avenue club rooms of Oriental rugs and chandeliers faster than Bob Strauss could say "Gotta get her back, or her husband will wring my neck."

Which he did say, several times. ("I just stopped by for a minute to say hello to Pamela," explained Rosalynn Carter. "I've got guests for dinner." hShe wouldn't say who.)

After Rosalynn Carter whooshed out into the rain under a black umbrella, and then whooshed away in a matching black limo, Carter campaign chairman Strauss assumed the limelight. He does this a lot.

"Just talked to the boss," he announced between hand and elbow squeezing en route to the podium.

At the podium erupted still more superlatives about the woman Strauss helped lure into politics, most specifically by making her co-chair of the 1979 Democratic Congressional Dinner.

"Pamela Harriman gives of herself as generously as anyone I know," Strauss said.

"He won't take no for an answer," Harriman responded in her acceptance speech. "He has not only led me to the water's edge . . . he has pushed me in."

Earlier in the receiving line, the two had kissed warmly. "Haarriman," Strauss said to her husband, who was standing nearby, "you discovered an oil well. But I want a 10 percent overriding interest."

Despite the dreary night of duck weather, Harriman's award party attracted a slew from Washington's old-time Democratic establishment: lawyer Clark Clifford, fund-raiser Polly Fritchery, LBJ-ites Dale and Scooter Miller, Lorraine Cooper. There were also some younger Democratic establishment types like: Sen. Henry M. (Scoop) Jackson (D-Wash.), Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.), Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) and former Peace Corps director and Kennedy kin Sargent Shriver.

There was at least one recent non-member of the Democratic establishment, or Democratic administration anyway, that person being former secretary of state Cyrus Vance.

"Hated to see you get nipped in the bud," one guest called to Vance as the newly resigned Cabinet member ordered himself a Scotch at the bar. Vance's current plans include a Harvard commencement speech, then law practice in New York. They do not include talking, at least publicly, of Carter's recent characterization of president Secretary of State Edmund Muskie as "much stronger and more statesmanlike" than his predecessor.

"I don't want to get into that," Vance said.

Among the crowd, besides Shriver was at least one Ted Kennedy operative. This was Tom Quinn, a member of the candidate's National Finance Committee. And just what was he doing among all these Carter Democrats?

"Keeping the dialogue open," he said. Somebody then suggested a possible reconciliation between his candidate and Carter. "We'll have to, at some point, with the prospect of Ronnie Reagan," he replied.

Past Women of the Year include Carter, Boggs and former Texas representative Barbara Jordan, as well as Carter consumer affairs adviser Esther Peterson, who was there. And if any of the women wondered why the selection committee had put Harriman in that category, very few said so.

"Out of 2,200 club members, I got maybe two or three notes that said, 'I have a better idea,'" said club President Carol Williams. "There was no wrastling about this thing. The calls I got said, 'By golly, she's the one muckety-muck who gets in there and works.'"