Jihan Sadat made her first public appearance in Washington last night since the assassination of her husband, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, a little more than a year ago.

She still wears black for mourning and she still dazzles a typical Washington political/social crowd like the one that gathered last night at the Phillips Collection for a benefit for SOS Children's Villages Inc., an international child welfare organization that cares for homeless children. Jihan Sadat is president of the Egyptian SOS Children's Villages.

"I talked to her about how much I admired the way she conducted herself during the funeral," said Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. "She showed great strength. She had the admiration of all involved--including the three ex-presidents of the United States ."

"I love this country, these people," Jihan Sadat said last night. This is her first visit to the United States since her husband's death. Today she will go to the White House to receive an American Friendship Medal, which First Lady Nancy Reagan is awarding to Anwar Sadat. Later, Jihan Sadat will speak at the National Press Club. Tomorrow morning she leaves for New York.

Hosts for last night's benefit -- attended by about 200 -- were Weinberger and his wife Jane; Secretary of Health and Human Services Richard S. Schweiker and his wife, Claire; Secretary of State George P. Shultz and his wife, Helena -- neither of whom was there -- and Helene von Damm, head of the office of personnel at the White House.

"I told her about the feeling and rapport her husband had with the Senate," said Schweiker, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania. "Whenever he was in town, he used to speak before the Senate, which was unusual. First, we didn't invite many foreigners, and secondly, he loved to do it. We all felt he could run for office and get elected here."

But whether Sadat was faring as well with the Egyptian populace is an issue of some debate.

"I have trouble understanding that," said Schweiker. "He was so sensitive and responsive to his own electoral climate."

"It's a lot of baloney," said Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal, at the suggestion that Sadat was not well-liked at home. Asked if talk questioning Sadat's popularity bothers Jihan Sadat, Ghorbal said, "Certainly, parts of it bother her--when it isn't objective."

On the subject of whether Egypt would abandon the Camp David peace accords in light of new tensions in the Middle East, Ghorbal said of the agreement, "That's a strategic course we have taken and we don't go back on a strategic course. Mostly, we have to get the parties involved in the agreement to behave--parties like Israel."

The reception last night will benefit the Egyptian SOS Children's villages and the completion of the Anwar Sadat House in a village in Tanta, Egypt. "I see his efforts have not been in vain," Jihan Sadat told the group. "His ideals of freedom and dignity and peace live on in our [children's village] house."

She made brief remarks and afterward, her daughter, Jihan, 21, played the piano for the group. The daughter wore a gold medallion, hanging from a gold chain, which bore the image of her father. "We got it from Munich," she said, fingering it. "It came to my mother, and I took it."