The signs reading "Members and Male Guests Only" in the stairwell of the prestigious Cosmos Club will remain there: The 101-year-old men's society has overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to admit women as members.

In a battle that for the third time in the last decade disrupted the ordinarily subdued, literary atmosphere of the Embassy Row gentleman's club, 58 percent of the club members voted against admitting women. g

Members who spearheaded the effort to admit qualified women say the issue is probably dead for years to come.Though none would comment for the record, some club officials and members privately expressed delight at the result.

"If God had wanted women to be members," wrote one member on his ballot, "He would have made them men. . . . If you don't like (the rules) get out, but leave the rest of us in peace. These are my considered thoughts."

Some members said they may now resign. One member, U.S. District Court Judge Jose A. Cabranes of Connecticut, apparently has resigned over the issue, but his office declined comment.

The vote on the issue of admitting women was conducted by a group that supported their admission. The club refused to assist in tabulating the vote, because it was afraid that act in itself would amount to taking a position in the controversy. Nearly 2,000 of the club's estimated 3,000 members voted.

About 750 members, or 40 percent, favored the admission of qualified women as full club members. Forty members, or 2 percent, stated that they had no opinion.

"The club is populated to a large extent by older people and people of basically reactionary caste," explained one member, himself over 65, and one who supported the admission of women. He, like all the other members reached yesterday, was unwilling to comment publicly because club rules prohibit conversations with the press about club matters.

"This is very slow progress," said another member. "It's going to be a long time before these old codgers die. They seem to be close to immortal."

The Cosmos Club, at 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW, is one of the nation's most exclusive clubs, an ornate stone mansion where judges, ambassadors, famous scholars and journalists dine and lounge beneath the portraits of Nobel prize-winning club members.

The club bylaws explicitly state that the club "shall be composed of men."

In the last few months, however, letters on both sides of the issue have been circulated among club members, eliciting heated reactions. Supporters of women members had hoped that a favorable outcome in the unofficial vote would force opponents to change their stance. That now seems unlikely. "If you conduct your own poll, and lose it," conceded one member, "you're in trouble."

Club President Philip H. Highfill said he would not comment on the vote because no formal petition was presented to the club's board and thus the club had taken "no official cognizance" of the issue.

The group hoping to admit women included such members as John W. Gardner, former chairman of Common Cause; former Supreme Court justice Arthur J. Goldberg, and U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge J. Skelly Wright.

Vigorously opposing them was a group of past presidents of the club, who declared that admitting women would lead to "the transformation of one of the world's distinguished men's clubs into a mere luncheon group."