National Endowment for the Arts chairman Frank Hodsoll said yesterday that NEA never would have given a $25,000 grant if it had known the Theatre of Nations would pull ''Animal Farm'' from its festival.

Organizers of the festival dropped the National Theatre of Great Britain production because of Soviet complaints the political satire would insult Eastern European troupes participating in the international event. The play is still being performed as scheduled at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, but not under Theatre of Nations auspices.

''We are not withdrawing the grant because we do not wish to hurt in any way those U.S. artists who are innocent bystanders. And we affirm that endowment funding will continue as in the past, to be provided in the context of freedom of expression,'' Hodsell said. Women's Wartime Work

Though not able to make good on its promise to be the war to end all wars, World War I in a roundabout way was responsible for achieving another more permanent objective -- child welfare. That at least is one of the premises of "Absent Minded Sweethearts," a new play based on documents in the National Archives to be performed by the Horizons Theatre company.sk

"World War I provided a means for women to organize and get government support for programs they were interested in getting started anyway," explains Horizons artistic director Leslie B. Jacobson, who with company member Sarah Walton collaborated on the project, which was commissioned by the Archives.

The Woman's Committee was established by the National Defense Board to find areas where women could contribute to the war effort. Children became the nation's most precious natural resource, says Jacobson, since it was not known how long the war would continue and they would be needed to carry on the fight. So, she says, women were able to mobilize support for improved infant mortality rates, prenatal care and child labor laws, the latter getting children out of the factories and into school.

The documents on which "Absent Minded Sweethearts" is based include a pamphlet titled "Save 100,000 Babies," a letter from Woodrow Wilson endorsing "Children's Year (1918-19)" and brochures that explained games for children to play "to ward off juvenile delinquency," says Jacobson.

Not all women's contributions to the war effort were of such a noble nature as ensuring the well-being of America's youngsters. One pamphlet alluded to in the play is called "Inspiration for Hostesses," which instructed women on how to organize morale-boosting dances of a wholesome nature for soldiers. "The dance hall should be well lighted with no dark corners . . . and jass jazz music should be taboo," it reads.

"Absent Minded Sweethearts," which uses music ("Over There," "Keep the Home Fires Burning"), movement and slides to bring the documents to life, will be presented free today and Friday at noon at the National Archives. Production Dropped

"The Bob Hope War Zone Special," the short satire that followed the American National Theater production of "Ajax," was dropped last week from the nightly program. "It's very hard to sustain it with a small audience," said ANT director Peter Sellars. "It's meant to cheer everyone up and it needs a full house to cheer it on.

"The audience needs a chance to catch up to the show ['Ajax'], then we'll probably see it ['The Bob Hope War Zone Special'] again," Sellars said. Kreeger's 'Beehive'

A mist of Aquanet will hang in the air at Arena Stage this summer when "Beehive," the musical revue that celebrates pop women of the 1960s, opens in the Kreeger July 14. Accompanied by a six-piece rock band, six singer-actresses (three black and three white) perform 40 top tunes from the period -- beginning with innocent love songs such as "My Boyfriend's Back" and "One Fine Day" and proceeding through standards by Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin -- in this new production of a show that has had New York abuzz. Odds and Ends

Opening this week: tonight, "Little Shop of Horrors" at the Olney and Noel Coward's "Red Peppers" at d.c. space; Thursday, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel" at the Kennedy Center's Opera House ; Friday, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" at Source's Warehouse Rep (midnight series), "A Kurt Weill Review" at d.c. space, "I'm Livin' Alone (and I Like It)," a cabaret celebrating the music and times of Sophie Tucker, at the Washington Theatre Wing and "Dreamland Burns," a mixed-media theater work about urban life in New York, at the Kennedy Center's Free Theater; Monday, Miklos Vamos' "Skyfall" at the Warehouse Rep.