Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole told a story last night about a complaint her husband, Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), recently received from a man in California.

"He had seen a picture in People magazine of my husband and I making up the bed--I don't know how they got in the bedroom--and he was writing to complain, 'Thanks to you, I now have to help my wife make up the bed.'

"My husband wrote him back, 'You just don't know the half of it. She only helped because the camera was there.' "

Secretary Dole then added, "I have found out that if you leave the house early enough, you can get out of helping."

Her story played well before her audience, some 100 women who hold executive positions in the Reagan administration. Winnie Pizzano, federal cochairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, had brought them together for a party to honor Dole and Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler.

Heckler, not to be outdone, told the crowd the story of her first day on the House floor in 1967. "Two men, speaking behind me, said, 'I wonder what that secretary is doing on the floor of the House.' Well, now that I am a secretary, I can tell you it's no 9-to-5 job."

Dole and Heckler went on to praise the competency of women in government and urged the appointment of more women. "We shouldn't be satisfied with one or two or three women in the Cabinet," said Heckler. "We need more throughout the country, working not for women alone but for fairness for all. I've taken on the assignment of heckling for this cause."

Dole described vividly her first day in law school, in 1962, when a man, now "prominent in Washington, said 'Why are you here taking the place of a man who would do something with a law education?'

"I'm a charter member of Executive Women in Government. I think we have an obligation to help younger women along and point out the pitfalls. I have a deep respect for the help Esther Peterson and Margaret Chase Smith gave to me.

"I was one of those who pushed for President Reagan to include economic and legal equity for women in his inaugural speech. And I believe we will see it fleshed out in the near future. Just because I'm now in the Transportation Department doesn't mean I have lost touch with women's causes."

Virginia Knauer, special presidential assistant and director of the Office of Consumer Affairs, a post she also held in the Nixon and Ford administrations, listened approvingly. "I suppose I was one of the first of the Republican women to hold an important White House job," she said. "I did lots of campaigning for Reagan. People were concerned then about inflation. Well, it's down now."

Also attending was Sheila Tate, Nancy Reagan's press secretary, who quipped, "The office is certainly quieter without Muffie Brandon," who recently resigned as White House social secretary. But, Tate added, Brandon's successor, Gahl Hodges, "already had a leg up on the job since she was in the Department of State protocol office. She'd worked on lots of White House parties. It is a real help to her. Why, when we first came to the White House, it took us a month to find the ladies' lounge."