This, the 70th anniversary of "The Social List of Washington, D.C. and Social Precedence in Washington," better known as "The Green Book," is a good time to reveal that the invaluable tome might be said to have begun in the White House.

In the early 1900s, Isabella "Belle" Hagner became Edith (Mrs. Theodore) Roosevelt's social secretary. She was "the first salaried [$1,400 a year] government employee answering to the president's wife," according to Carl Sferrazza Anthony's book "First Ladies."

Later, with the help of her aunt Belle's name recognition in the capital, Helen Ray Hagner set up a social bureau in a little office in the Shoreham Hotel. When someone suggested Hagner publish her lists of guests--with their telephone numbers--the Green Book was born.

In 1930, Hagner ran off the volume by Hectograph gelatin duplicator, the only copying method available to her. In 1932, she was able to have the book printed, and covered in a green pseudo suede.

Last month the Green Book for the year 2000 was published. Its editor, Anne Lathrop Liu, said many people keep every year's edition--as the Chronicler does.

Except in the summer when she, her writer son Geoffrey and several others edit the upcoming edition, Liu spends much of her time answering subscribers' etiquette questions. This tremendously useful service, which comes with the Green Book's $70 purchase price, dates back to Belle Hagner's niece.

"She provided social advice, especially for debutante parties," Liu told the Chronicler. "She had quite a file of elites--especially extra men suitable as guests. That was when parties always invited equal numbers of men and women guests."

In nearly two decades as editor, Liu said her favorite etiquette query came when the newly married Prince Charles and Princess Diana came to the United States. Their itinerary included stopping by a Virginia JCPenney to kick off the chain's "Best of Britain" campaign. A subscriber came to Liu's office to ask if it would be proper to wear her tiara, a family heirloom, to the 2 p.m. reception. Liu had to disappoint her.

One legendary query is often told. A man's final wishes included being buried in white tie and tails. His worried widow went to Liu. Since the interment was at 2 p.m., her friends had said, "the outfit would not be correct for that time of day." Liu told her the formal suit was all right.

The more usual questions are about seating distinguished guests at a dinner party and how to address invitations and letters. "Never, ever should you address one to 'Ms.,' " Liu said. "Instead, ask politely how the recipient-to-be wants to be addressed--at home or office."

Carolyn Hagner Shaw, daughter of Helen Ray Hagner and the most flamboyant of the Green Book's publishers, answered etiquette questions on the radio. "She was never disturbed by upset people who called in," Liu said.

Mrs. Shaw published the book from 1943 until her death in 1977. The family business then passed to her daughter, Jean Shaw Murray. After her death in 1985, her widower, Thomas J. Murray Sr., inherited the book.

Through the years, some who have wanted to see their names in print between the green covers went to extremes. Liu said one applicant asked if he could get in the book if he sent crates of whiskey to the editor of that time. He couldn't.

Those who do automatically qualify are top government officials and foreign diplomats. Others who are given a place among the 5,000 or so names in the book's social list must follow the proper procedure.

Liu explained that the journey toward listing in the Green Book "begins with a recommendation from someone who is already in it. The applicant fills out a questionnaire. The form does not ask color, age or religion. It then goes to the selection board. There is a board, but truly I do not know the members--and don't want to learn."

The selection process is less difficult than it was in the past. "Washington has changed," Liu said. "Years ago, governmental people of color were in the book, but not in the social list. In October 1971, Mr. and Mrs. Churchill Willoughby were the first I know of."

Changing social mores also changed the process.

"No longer is the fact of a divorce or separation grounds to be put out of the book--unless they killed one another," Liu said. "If you took out the names of all the people who are divorced or separated, the book would be far thinner.

"We do wish people would tell us, so we could print their correct address, and their new name."

CAPTION: In the know: "Green Book" Publisher Thomas J. Murray Sr. and Editor Anne Lathrop Liu.