What do James Thurber, Charles Lindbergh, Knute Rockne and Alexander Graham Bell have in common? They were all, at one time in their lives, federal workers, and on Monday they and other famous--and not so famous--public employes will be honored for their role in government.

A noontime rally saluting 16 million federal, state and local public employes will be held at the D.C. Convention Center and will kick off a week of nationwide activities commemorating the 100th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Civil Service Commission.

Congress and President Reagan, acting on a resolution sponsored by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), have designated Jan. 17, the day after the commission's actual centennial anniversary, as Public Employees Appreciation Day. Monday's celebration is intended to pay tribute to government workers' efforts.

"There's a taxpayer misconception about the productivity of public employes," G. Jerry Shaw, who chairs the Public Employees' Roundtable, a coalition of public sector groups that is organizing the rally, said yesterday. He complained that the employes have been "debased" by criticism and have become convenient targets of some politicians.

"We want to publicize the contributions of public employes and improve their self-image," said Shaw .

Scheduled speakers at the rally include Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Kenneth Blaylock, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Ambassador L. Bruce Laingen, former charge d'affaires in Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis. Reagan has been invited to address the rally, but Vice President Bush may attend in his place.

Also on hand yesterday to talk up the planned rally was Mark Tapscott, spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management.

"We're excited by the centennial celebration and rally, and we want to encourage all supervisors to be as liberal as possible if employes come back a little late from lunch that day," Tapscott said.