An afternoon tea with 600 women might stupefy the most intrepid of Washington partygoers. Yesterday, Nancy Thurmond held such an event for Supreme Court nominee Sandra O'Connor. And do you think anybody stayed home?

As Peatsy Hollings put it to Esther Coopersmith: "Esther, if you haven't been invited to this party today, you'd better look in the obituaries tomorrow -- because you're dead. Nancy, in her usual, thoughtful way, has invited all of Washington."

Hollings is the wife of Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), Coopersmith is a Democratic party fund-raiser, and Thurmond is the wife of Strom, the Republican senator from South Carolina. Nancy Thurmond, who is rumored to have an eye on her husband's seat in the next election, is also one of the most staggeringly active party givers in official Washington.

She outdid herself yesterday. The receiving line wound its way out of the Russell Building's caucus room and into the shadowy corridors beyond, making four bends in the process. In it you could find a bipartisan roll call of official, female Washington, many just back for the start of this season's circus. Some weren't ready. "It's like having a hard time putting shoes on again," said Louise McClure, the wife of the Republican senator who spent the summer at their Idaho lake.

It took Judge O'Connor the duration of the party to shake all the hands. She would take a palm, squeeze it firmly, then gaze seriously and intently into the eyes she found across from hers. No blinking, no wavering, none of the prattle that usually marks this type of encounter.

"You simply do the best you can," she said of her hearings this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And how did she think she held up?

"I cannot evaluate my performance," she said in the same cautious manner that marked much of her testimony. "I am not the judge of that."

The natives, meanwhile, thought she was quite something.

"Good vibes," said U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick after meeting her new soul mate. For the record, Kirkpatrick also remarked: "I think I've got the most difficult job in the United States government."

Has she told the president this?

"No," said Kirkpatrick. "But I will."

Barbara Walters was there, too.

"They certainly asked you every question," she said to O'Connor as she moved through the receiving line.

"No," said O'Connor. "They didn't."