She was raised a belle, but turned out a scrapper.

Her mother would sew her a grown-up black dress and then her father, just about the most popular professor at Georgia Tech, would take his faun-eyed daughter to the gym. It was a boys' school, but they had fine tea dances. Tommy Dorsey's songs sugared the perfumed air.

"I sat in the bleachers and I watched all these young boys dance down there," remembers U.S. Senator-elect Paula Hawkins, "and I was just much too young, but I always looked older . . . then the first thing you know, some of those freshmen would ask you to dance -- they didn't know I was a baby -- and I had a grand time."

Almost 40 years later on the Florida campaign trail, this conservative Republican -- who describes herself as "feminine" as distinct from "feminist" -- was engulfed at a stop by television reporters. One asked her how she was going to accomplish all that she was promising, particularly as a freshman senator without a committee chairmanship.

Hawkins, a former nodel with high cheekbones under dark, beautiful eyes, turned and smiled straight into the camera.

"Watch me," she said.

And then winked.

Today Paula Hawkins is among the most provocative of women elected to high office, and after Nov. 4's conservative sweep, arguably one of the most politically representative. Her detractors, especially feminists, see her as an intellectual lightweight who knows little of the issues, but her supporters view her as rambunctious inspiration.

"The limelight is just there, almost by definition, because she's a woman," says her businessman husband, Gene. "She really doesn't have to seek it. And I'd be less than truthful if I said she doesn't enjoy it."

At 53, Hawkins will be one of but two women in a U.S. Senate that she refers to as a "men's club." Soon, she promised during an interview in a musty conference room on Capitol Hill, the club will hear from her.

"I'm a fantastic combatant," she says in a soft accent that belongs at Tara. She's wearing a black business suit with a white, billowy blouse. Her hair is short, dark and softly curled; her hands are thin. They knead each other nervously. One open-toed pump fidgets. She says: "I like to fight, and I like to win."

It was her reputation as the "fighting Maitland housewife" -- from PTA president to feisty state public service commissioner to Air Florida vice president -- that helped her win the U.S. Senate race this year. She narrowly defeated her Democratic opponent in a campaign short on specifics but long on national party money and television spots promoting her lust for battle.

"Politics is the challenge all the time of who's going to win, your side or my side," she says. "And even if you lose, it doesn't mean you can't come back and get something out of the argument later."

She got enough out of this year's argument to win some unlikely supporters. Hawkins is against abortion and the ERA, but listen to Roxcy Bolton, credited as the "founding mother" of Florida feminism: "I'm delighted to have voted for Paula Hawkins," she says. "Lord, I'm not going to justify it. I never said she was perfect. But she'll be a fine role model for other women to seek the U.S. Senate."

It's a role that aggravates the model. "I resent going on 'Good Morning America' and the first question asked," Hawkins says, "is about the ERA -- when you've been elected to statewide office in the eighth-largest state in the United States . . . it's irrelevant." She sees abortion as "tampering with human life" and supports more defense spending, prayer in public schools, a balanced federal budget, tax cuts.

On closer inspection, Hawkins is much more than another female role model -- or, to feminists, anathema. Like many ambitious individuals, she is a very complicated person who defies easy pigeonholing. "She can cut your head off and do it so slick you won't even bleed," says Tommy Thomas, the Panama City car dealer and longtime GOP friend who also describes her as "very charming" and "very warm."

"She's many people, I would say," explains Marilyn Mennello, an old Winter Park friend whose home faces Hawkins' across the lake. "There are many Paulas within one Paula." The Popular Girl

Hawkins never did get her degree from Utah State, the university she attended after the tea dances at Georgia Tech. "I just didn't settle down to a major," she says. "I never liked the rules they had." But she did like the boys.

"I had a lot of beaus, oh yes," she says brightly. "I got engaged every year. That was fun."

On Valentine's Day in 1948, a back-home honey she used to meet for drugstore Cokes sent her a diamond ring in the mail. "Which I thought was clever of him," she says. And that was it, instant engagement? "Well, it was a gorgeous ring," she giggles, then straightens up. "Well. He was wonderful, anyway."

She married Gene Hawkins in the fall of 1948. They lived in Atlanta, where he studied electrical engineering while she worked as a secretary and department-store model. In 1955, when his business took them to Florida, they settled in Winter Park but soon moved to the developing suburb of Maitland. The PTA Mother

"She was the kind of mother that just devastates me now," says Genean McKinnon, Hawkins' 31-year-old daughter, who has four children and a job as legislative aide to Rep. L.A. "Skip") Bafalis (R-Fla.). "I always think my children should have better. She's a fabulous cook, she's a wonderful seamstress, she's a good decorator. Everything she did, she did well. And anything she decided to learn, she went about very aggressively."

Besides Genean, there are two other offspring: Kevin, 27, a certified public accountant, and Kelley Ann, 19, a student at Rollins College in Orlando. They kept her busy, but so did the volunteer work that was as much a part of 1950s American suburbia as the clipped hedges and cul de sacs.

"I have been PTA president, I have been classroom mother, I have been everything there is out there," Hawkins says. "You know, as you come up, you can't say no. I found out that if they asked you to make a poster, and it turned out to be a really good poster, they asked you to be chairman the next year. And I was a whale of a poster maker."

Hawkins is a devout Mormon, family-oriented and close to a religion she terms a way of life. "We believe the family is the basic unit of government," she says. "It's permanent, it's continuing and it's not just a little encounter here. We believe families are forever. That's a great comfort to me."

She seems to thrive on domesticity. "I enjoyed it the way I do it," she says. "I make my days very full of learning and reading and doing the yard . . . you read a lot about me being a housewife from Maitland, which was a putdown the press gave me, but I decided that was a great title, and I'd use it and run with it." The Commissioner

Sewers got her into politics. It was in 1958, the beginning of what's still the Florida land boom, and the new people building homes in Maitland didn't want the existing septic tanks. Active in the community as it was, she became one of those fighting for a new sewage system.

She lost that battle (a later mayor eventually put the sewers in), but for Hawkins, it was the beginning of a steady political ascension. She went from being a congressional campaign volunteer to the Republican National Committee to her election in 1972 as Florida public service commissioner, serving until 1978. During those seven years, she established herself as a gutsy consumer champion who fought both utility rate increases and the other commission members.

"I knew it would be hard to buck the system, but it was much harder than I thought," she says. "Much, much harder. It took a tremendous amount of loneliness . . . When I'd lose a battle as commissioner, I'd be really depressed. My husband would say 'You're bouncing off the walls.' And I'd toss and turn all night. Then my husband would say: 'I can hear you scheming. Let's talk about it.' It taught me a great lesson in perseverance."

And in attracting media coverage. Hawkins has always been deft at this, ready with splashy investigations and snappy one-liners at her often-called press conferences that provided statewide name recognition. (A vintage sample from the campaign: "The federal government could mess up a two-car funeral.")

After working for a short time at Air Florida, she entered the Senate race July 1 and easily won the Republican primary. In the general election she defeated Bill Gunter, the insurance commissioner who spent valuable time and money beating Sen. Richard Stone on the Democratic side.

During the campaign, one top consultant remembers prepping Hawkins for a statewide televised debate with Gunter, who was behind in the polls. The consultant told her to go easy on her opponent until the very end of the program. "She didn't like it much, but she said okay," says Charles Black, the consultant. "Then came the first question and bingo -- about 10 minutes after 8 she was laying all over Gunter. She didn't need to be attacking him, she really didn't." The Senator-Elect

"I think she wakes up in the morning working," says Don Weider, the Tallahassee lawyer who was her campaign coordinator. He seems to be right. Hawkins is a classic "A" type who makes long lists of what she has to do each day. If she doesn't get to an item on Monday, it comes right back as an entry on Tuesday.

"I get depressed if I don't make progress," she says. "I like to think that at the end of each day, I've accomplished a lot."

Says Roxcy Bolton: "She's a very, very disciplined person. Did you ever got to the store and forget what you went for? Paula won't."

Hawkins is never reading less than one book, can't plant a bush without taking a course in landscaping, and gets jumpy waiting for elevators. "If I'm going to relax," she says, "I go to bed."

She stays up until at least midnight with research, and is up by 6 or 7. During her campaign for senator, she had no household help. "If I have to go to the market, I'll go to the market at midnight Saturday," she says. "And I'll pick up the dry-cleaning Sunday morning." She seems to relish less the actual chores and more the frenzied attempt to do it all. And help, however affordable, would take away a bit of the daily control and a lot of the image -- self perhaps more than public.

She moved from Maitland to nearby Winter Park two years ago and lives with her husband in an architect-designed, Spanish-style house. It sits on a lake in a neighborhood of homes costing $300,000 and up. She supervised the house contruction down to the stained-glass windows, the fireplace and the shell-shaped pool. As senator, she'll rent a Capitol Hill basement apartment from her daughter but commute home on weekends. Her husband heads an electronics firm in Orlando.

Who'll do the laundry, somebody asked at her Washington post-election press conference.

She smiled sweet as a princess. And then, with a touch of venom: "I don't really think you need to worry about my laundry -- okay?" 'A 30-Year Honeymoon'

Her marriage, to listen to close friends, is a happy one of 32 years. Observers say you can even see a distinct warmth between Hawkins and her husband when they appear together. "It's like being on a 30-year honeymoon," she says of a relationship that often depended on commuter flights between the public service commission in Tallahassee and the Orlando airport near her home. "When we do see each other, it's very wonderful."

Says her husband: "In no way has it proven to be a detriment in terms of the basic love and admiration. There has not been a setback on that." As for the climb from mother to senator -- a transformation that would unglue many husbands -- he explains that for him, "the gradualism of it made it not too significant."

Still, things changed. "I remember when I flew back from Brigham Young University one time," says Genean McKinnon, the eldest daughter. "I must have been a sophomore or something. My dad picked me up at the airport and we went straight to the Republican state convention because my mother was up for committeewoman.

"And I was just taken aback that she was a notable. I had never pictured her as being that. I just didn't realize she was becoming a significant political force."

But looking back, the daughter recalls now: "As we were growing up, my father traveled a lot, and she was at home and ran everything. I remember her being in charge. It seemed to me logical that she would do something, although I don't think she woke up one morning and said 'I'm going into politics and this will be my game plan' . . .

"I think her main thing in politics is that she feels the people have not been represented. She cannot tolerate injustice. I can remember being out in the back yard and getting in scrapes with my friends, and she always wanted to get to the bottom of it, to see who was wrong." Issues

One way to get Paula Hawkins mad, as they did on "Good Morning America," is to ask her about women's issues before anything else. She is, she says, a senator first and a woman senator second.

"When I became a commissioner, that was in '72, the ERA debate was new. Both sides came to me and said: 'We finally elected a woman to statewide office. We want you to be head of our group . . .' And I said: 'It has nothng to do with the commissioner. I will have nothing to do with the Equal Rights Amendment -- against it or for it.

"'When I go to that legislature . . . I'm going to talk to them about accounting techniques, I'm going to talk to them about transportation needs, I'm going to talk to them about utilities, I'm going to talk to them about railroads and natural gas. I'm not going to talk to them about the woman's issue.'

"And both groups were shocked. They both thought they had a leader."

She says she's for equal pay and equal work, but the amendment, she feels, "is worded so ambiguously, and so vague." She is especially angered that she received no money from national feminist poltical groups, which traditionally fund qualified women candidates.

"We did everything we could think of to prevent her election," says Eileen Cudney, president of Florida's National Organization for Women. "We picketed at her appearances. We tried to get across the message that Paula Hawkins does not support any feminist issues whatsoever and votes in accordance with the teachings of the Mormon Church.

Responds Hawkins: "You have to have a litmus test with the women's organizations, and I don't think that's fair. This is not a seat that should be occupied by someone that agrees with you 100 percent on your single issue."

In her opposition to abortion, she says: "The men have a lot to lose. I think it has emasculated the male, to say this is a woman's issue only. It takes two sexes to have that pregnancy." The 'Peanuts' Parallel

It is precisely 3:44 p.m. in the Capitol Hill conference room. Hawkins, still kneading and fidgeting, announces that time is running out. Pretty soon she'll be able to cross "interview" off her daily list and go on to the next item.

Her daughter Genean, who's been waiting at the other end of the room, wanders over.

"Paula," Genean says of a mother she calls Paula in public, "is like in the 'Peanuts' comic strip. Snoopy's standing on his doghouse and the cat comes up and WHOOOOSH! There's no doghouse."

"That's true -- that time will come and you won't even know what happened," Hawkins says.

Then she giggles.