Dr. Reginald Girard James, 71, a Washington physician for 35 years and one of the first black physicians admitted to the D.C. Medical Society, died of cancer Tuesday at his Washington home.

Besides being a family practitioner, Dr. James served on the teaching staffs of old Freedmen's and Howard University hospitals and a medical officer for the D.C. Welfare Department and the Social Security Administration. In 1952, he and four other medical doctors became the first black physicians to be admitted to the D.C. Medical Society.

Born and reared in Richmond, he graduated from Virginia Union University there. He earned a medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine in 1937 and served internships at Homer G. Phillips and Freedmen's hospitals.

Before beginning his private medical practice here in 1946, Dr. James served as a veneral disease clinician in Macon County, Ala., and as a medical officer in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Ala. In 1943, he returned to Washington as a U.S. Public Health Service associate medical officer and later served as an assistant surgeon in the Health Service Reserve Corps' veneral disease division. In 1945, he received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship and assigned to Johns Hopkins University Hosptial's School of Hygiene and Public Health, where he earned a master's degree in public health.

Dr. James was one of those whose efforts helped gain government compensation for black syphilitics who participated in a national research program in Alabama.

He served as a medical officer at the Children's Receiving Home, the Industrial Home School for Colored Children, which later became Junior Village, and at Junior Village for 15 years before it closed in 1973. He was a full-time medical officer at the Social Security Administration's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals and served as the bureau's acting chief medical officer from 1973 until 1978, when he resigned the position.

In addition, Dr. James taught in Howard University Hospital's dermatology, pediatrics and family practice divisions and was active in the College of Medicine's community physicians and medical education programs. He formerly taught in the dermatology department at Freedmen's Hospital.

A Washington resident, he was a past president of the Capital View Civic Association and the Far North east Council and a former chairman of the Public Health Committee for the Federation of Civic Associations. He served on the D.C. Public Health Advisory Council in 1969.

Besides the D.C. Medical Society, Dr. James' memberships included the National Medical Association, the Medico-Chirurgical Society, the Southern and American Medical associations, the American Venereal Disease Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians. He was active in the alumni associations at Virginia Union and Howard University.

Survivors include his wife, Sadye, a daughter, Dr. Janis Mercer, and a son, Reginald Jr., all of Washington; a sister, Gwendolyn Shelton, and a brother, Robert W., both of Richmond and a granddaughter.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathey be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.