The National Press Club, which once restricted women journalists, saluted the "News Women of Washington" last night. The journalists who came -- about 300 -- were from every level of the print and broadcast media, and ranged from greenhorns to veterans.

And the veterans had their share of setback stories.

"Last time I was in the press club," recalled former ABC news correspondent Pauline Frederick, "women had to go up into the gallery, they were not allowed on the floor." She also told of a job interview with CBS' Edward R. Murrow who told her "I had a pleasant voice but at the time there was little opportunity for women on the air. He wrote it on a memo, which I still have."

Cavorting among the women, eyebrows flickering characteristically, coemcee Sam Donaldson was, by turns, provocative, flirtatious and funny. "I didn't catch your name, Madame," he said with mock ignorance to a familiar news-gathering figure.

"I didn't catch yours," replied Helen Thomas, senior White House correspondent for United Press International, before the embrace.

At the ceremony, National Press Club president David Hess read a good-will message from President Reagan that wished the gathered reporters "further success and accomplishment as they continue to inform, instruct, inspire, entertain and, occasionally -- like their brothers -- exasperate us."

Katharine Graham, chairman of the board of the Washington Post Co., paid tribute in her keynote address to Elisabeth May Craig, a Washington journalist for three decades, who "didn't mince words . . . and asked peppery questions at presidential news conferences." She also commended veteran journalist Sarah McClendon, who "made it long before the barriers came down."

Donaldson and his coemcee, CBS' Diane Sawyer, took turns reading historical tidbits, describing, among other things, the formation of the American Newspaper Women's Club (later the Washington Press Club, which still later merged with the National Press Club), Eleanor Roosevelt's press conferences for women only and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's honoring of Helen Thomas' request in 1959 that he not speak before the National Press Club until it adopted a policy to admit women.