There are certain distinctions that often come with having "made it" in Washington's black society. It may be a big house on the prestigious Gold or Platinum coasts of upper 16th Street, a home in affluent Potomac or McLean, driving a shiny Cadillac Seville, or if one has really made it, being chosen for membership in Jack and Jill.

Jack and Jill, despite its nursery rhyme name, is one of the oldest black social and civic organizations in the country and a key part of Washington's black establishment. There are chapters throughout the metropolitan area, each with a selective and limited membership. The local membership list reads like a Who's Who of black society.

Jack and Jill, whose membership includes some of the best educated and most successful blacks in the country, has been lauded by some blacks for its civic achievements and has been criticized by others for not taking a more active role in black affairs. Critics have described it as a "snobbish club for black elites."

Jack and Jill - which has seven chapters in the Washington area and 148 chapters throughout the country - began in Philadelphia in 1938. It was started by black mothers who wanted to provide educational, cultural and social experiences for their children, who during that era of segregation were left out of many activities because of their race.

The organization, according to members, provides activities for youths according to age groups. The children participate in dances, picnics, recreation and cultural activities. Members say the organization helps put their children in touch with the children of other black professionals.

There is also a civic side to Jack and Jill. In the last 40 years, the national organization has raised more than $400,000 for community projects and has contributed the same amount to its foundation, which provides community service across the country, a spokeswoman said.

The organization, among other things, publishes the "Up the Hill" magazine - a year-book of who's who in the organization - and sponsors the "Jack Be Quick" program for potential school drop-outs.

Some members are very sensitive about the image of Jack and Jill.

Gwen Mitchell, who said she "just happens" to be the wife of former Redskin football player Robert Mitchell, said, "I fly under my own steam . . . . I became part of Jack and Jill because of what I can do, not because my husband was a football player."

Mitchell said Jack and Jill is especially important in Washington because Washington is such a "small town."

"When my friends from New York used to come to Washington and say it was a small town I used to resent it. But after a while I realized that Washington was really small and that this close-knit group of friends I have acquired over the last 10 years will be with me for the rest of my life."

Mitchell, who said she is a member of the Library of Trustees, the Planned Parenthood Board of Washington and the Lung Association board, explained that other "active" blacks would always cross paths in this town.

"With all the blacks that come and go through different (presidential) administrations, we still seem to stick together."

Marion Christian, the president of the Columbia, Md., Jack and Jill Chapter, said her group has tried to have a diverse membership. "It's not our goal to have wives of professionals as members . . . and we are not campaigning to seek professional women," she said. However, she acknowledged that members, many of whom are doctors, lawyers and professionals, often invite their friends and colleagues to join.

Christian said Washington area chapters, as well as those across the country, have only a limited number of spaces available for new members. When they are filled, a new member can only become part of a chapter when someone leaves or a child graduates from the chapter.

Christain said her chapter, which has a limit of 45 members, includes teachers, a couple of university professors, a female dentist and several wives of doctors. Each chapter is free to decide its own membership limit.

Opal Hyde, whose husband is a physician, said, "I hate the word bourgeoisie (a term used in the black community to depict snobbish blacks).

"I gave two years of family life to make one of the organization's civic programs very, very successful. I worked so hard so we could help people less fortunate than we."

Dr. Bette Catoe Strudwick, a black pediatrician and a member of the Washington chapter, said she "has no apologies for joining the black middle-class organization."

"I've paid my dues," Strudwick said. "I was knee deep in mud in Resurrection City."

"If I'm bourgeoisie, then holding two jobs in college and getting scholarships and finally receiving four degrees between me and my husband while other college kids were driving cars - is bourgeoisie!

"I've never heard whites apologize for being middle class."

The sensitivity of Jack and Jill members was heightened recently after news reports that their incoming chapter president Lorethia Davis, the wife of prominent Washington dentist Howard Davis, was receiving $11,000 a year under the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) program while she lived in an elegant Upper Northwest home overlooking Rock Creek Park.

A Labor Department report on CETA programs in the city stated that Davis was wrongfully employed by the D.C. City Council with federal grant money intended for hiring the poor and disadvantaged.

One Jack and Jill member, when contacted by telephone said, "You aren't doing a story about us because of what happened to Lori, are you?"

"Now I don't want you to use my name," the member of the Washington chapter explained. She said if other members knew she had mentioned the "incident with Lori," she would be "in big trouble and no one will talk to me."

A former member of the Washington chapter of Jack and Jill said, "They (the Washington chapter parents) felt their kids were better than other kids so they would not let them mingle with just anybody.

"Before, it was a thing of skin color. The lighter-skinned people - who were traditionally successful in the past - kept together in this group. The Jack and Jill organization was a way of keeping wealthy black children in touch with each other."

A national spokeswoman for the organization estimated that "roughly one-third" of the Jacks and Jills have married each other since the organization began. There were no figures to support the estimate.

The criticism of the organization has affected even the children of Jack and Jill, according to 17-year-old Renee Palmer.

She said other teen-agers "think it is a big stuck-up group," but added, they do not understand what the organization is all about.

"I don't care what they say," said 16-year-old Kathy Jackson, a Jill from the Reston chapter. "Those kids aren't in the group and don't know what the group is all about. All they hear is the name Jack and Jill."

Though Kathy admitted she has grown tired of her monthly meetings and social gatherings with other Jacks and Jills "because you get tired of hearing their jive," she said she has learned a lot.

Members of the organization said the young Jacks and Jills, though they graduate from their chapters after they are high school age, are eligible to rejoin if they marry and have children.

One woman who said she hoped to rejoin is 23-year-old Donna Budd, daughter of the president of the Alexandria chapter. "They (Jack and Jill) separate the riff-raff from the more prosperous individuals . . . from those who want to stand about and not succeed," she said. Budd said she had become a member because, "I was born around the right people." The organization, she added, "gives you a certain amount of prominence . . . and credibility." She got her first job through her Jack and Jill contacts, she said.

Television personality Carol Randolph, who has a 15-year-old daughter in the Washington chapter, explained she has "not let the good or bad comments bother me."

"Sure there are negative comments that we are snobbish, but the individuals of the organization haven't let me down."

Randolph notes that the organization includes a number of high-powered women in a social atmosphere where "everybody knows everybody."

"Political decisions are made indirectly in this organization because everyone is tapped into other resources. . . . The old boy network becomes the old girl network - those women are so political!"

Helen Harris, another member of the Washington chapter, said every year "there are 20 names of people who would like to be members - but there are only eight or nine spots. . . . You should see the campaigning!"

She said new members are chosen based on their background and what the group expects they can contribute to the community.

Queen Gladden, past president of the Prince George's County chapter and acting chief of child care for the D.C. Department of Human Resources, said new members are accepted into the county chapter only if "they have something dynamic to offer the community." She said many of the Prince George's Jack and Jill members are professional women in occupations ranging from the federal government to teaching.

David B. Budd, the husband of Jean Budd - the current president of the Alexandria chapter - said he and other "Jacks" play a "supportive role" in the women's organization, but will have a more active role in the near future.

A spokeswoman for the national organization said the group has recently adopted a new version of its bylaws that will enable men to fully participate in the future planning of the organization.

"Before, if a woman died, the children had to leave the organization even if the fathers wanted them to stay in. With this new change, it will truly be a family organization," said spokeswoman Patricia W. Morris, national program director.

Not everyone who knows about Jack and Jill and would qualify to become a member has necessarily wanted to join.

H. R. Crawford, a local politician and businessman, said even if he were invited, he probably would not have joined the pretigious organization because he operates "a sort of a Jack and Jill program myself."

He said his own children work with children in the housing projects that he manages and they participate in discussions with adults who attend functions at their home.

"I believe the Jack and Jill organization is great," said Crawford, who added he did not have to join Jack and Jill to have his children meet other black children - as some Jack and Jill members did - because he lives in a mixed neighborhood.

Dr. Pearl (Watson) Boschulte, former national president of Jack and Jill, said the organization has made an attempt to show the children of middle-class families that they should help others less fortunate. It has tried to show children "that instead of using your hind feet and pushing someone down, you should reach back with a helping hand and try to pull someone up."

The national founder of the organization, Marion Stubbs Thomas, who now lives in Washington, said, "I think the Jack and Jill organization is marvelous. I am thrilled at the way it has grown - not only in membership - but in the way they do civic things."

Thomas said she is pleased the organization is moving toward getting the total family more involved in the organization.

The national founder said Jack and Jill had not been developed as a means of attaining social status: "It just happened that way."

Petey Greene, a local television and radio personality with an intimate knowledge of Washington, had his own inimitable way of describing the organization: "It's a lot of middle-class broads with nothing to do."

Greene was quick to add, "I'm not knocking these people. . . . they got all kinda connections and some of these broads are in other clubs besides.

"They have social clout."

"They would never lean my way (in supporting his community programs) because they didn't like the way I talked. . . . But they will help poor people."