Rosie the riveter has come a long way since World War ii. She's donned a hard hat, found work in the coal mines, on assembly lines, sought elective office. She's even conquered the corporate boardroom learning along the way, no doubt, how to dress for success. And judging by the crowd at the Capital Hilton yesterday, she has had the good graces and even better political sense not to forget those who have helped her along the way.

More than 1,000 of the women she symbolizes have been meeting at the hotel over the past three days to celebrate the birthday of an old friend, the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, and to assess the future of the American working woman.

The highlight of the bureau's 60th anniversary conference was yesterday's luncheon in honor or the U.S. delegation to the mid-decade conference on women held in Denmark in July.

U.N. Ambassador Donald McHenry was there as were several other luminaries of the Carter administration, including presidential assistant Sarah Weddington, Lynda Johnson Robb, Liz Carpenter and Judy Carter, the president's daughter-in-law and honorary chair of the President's Advisory Committee for Women. Together they lent glamor to a conference pervaded by hard work and lots of what has come to be called "networking."

(The bureau, in fact, scheduled an entire hour devoted to nothing but that yesterday afternoon, for those who hadn't had enough by day's end.)

Since 1920, the year that Congress voted the bureau into existence, women have entered the work force in uprecedented numbers -- 45 million as of 1972. Large numbers of women are the sole support of their families.

But the bureau's mission has not changed. Its task is still, as Carpenter put it yesterday, to "keep the American working woman from being exploited or exploded."

Before the lunch, conferees attended workshops with titles that reflect the bureau's growing constituency. The room labeled "Low-Income Women/Rural Women," for example, drew a diverse crowd, including Sioux from South Dakota and a group from Appalachia.

In the ballroom later, as cutlery clanked and gold-jacketed waiters and waitresses swarmed around distributing plates, McHenry talked briefly about the Copenhagen delegation he co-chaired with Weddington.

Weddington spoke glowingly of the president's commitment to working women. (The White House had prepared a sleek, brown booklet cataloguing the Carter record on "Women's Issues," which was stacked in piles on tables outside the banquet room.)

Then Weddington praised Liz Carpenter for her dedication to women's issues, particularly the Equal Rights Amendment. Someone glowed about Alexis Herman, the director of the Women's Bureau. Judy Carter then got up and glowed about Carpenter.

This was right before Carpenter was presented with a birthday cake in honor of her 60th birthday, which made her glow. The television lights, switched on for much of the luncheon, had stopped glowing by then.