The women were angry as they looked back on golden campaign promises and then saw the long list of white male Cabinet and other high-ranking appointments.

So a delegation of leading Democratic women, who had worked hard to get Jimmy Carter elected President went to see him and his close adviser, Charles Kirbo. They heard a Catch 22 story.

Carter told them his problem was that he had to pick from the most "experienced" for the highest level jobs. By experience he meant the kind of traditional, top-ranking administrative experience most women didn't have - because they'd been excluded from those jobs.

Mary Anne Krupsak, lieutenant governor of New York, responded in kind. Using that criteria, she said, Carter - the Georgia outsider - would never have been picked for Vice President and "probably not the Cabinet."

There was some truth to that, Carter allowed. He assured the women that he would "build a base" of women assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries from which to pick Cabinet members in future administrations.

There are many women and some men, including those on the transition team, who question whether the emphasis on such traditional criteria isn't subterfuge.

"This business of 'administrative' experience is a lot of crap," said one male on the transition team." A management background isn't nearly as important as intelligence and ideas . . . The main drawback is women are just not part of the 'good ol' boy netword.' You're dealing with a very chauvinistic group of men around Carter. I was on the plane going down to Georgia with the Carter team and Juanita Kreps [Secretary-designate of Commerce] and I told her, 'Look around you - you've got your job cut out for you.' The plane was filled with white males."

"There are several women more qualified than Hamilton Jordan by a long shot. A woman with his background would be laughed at and wouldn't get through the White House door," says Gloria Steinem.

Jordan, Carter's top aide, jokingly responds, "My being unqualified has nothing to do with my being a man - I'm just unqualified."

"Can you imagine the scandal," Steinem asks, "if Greg Schneiders had been a woman?" (Schneiders, a college dropout and owner of a Capitol Hill bar that failed, was on his way to a White House staff job when it was learned that he was the target of an investigation involving allegations he illegally received unemployment compensation checks. On Friday, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia "concluded that no prosecution is warranted." Schneiders is expected to be reconsidered for the White House.)

Jordan agrees with the point Kreps made when her appointment was announced. "It is more difficult finding women when you've got three men doing the looking," Jordan admits. "And, at the top level, there is just a smaller pool of female talent that is obvious to the people doing the looking."

Despite a transition office "talent bank" with a 1,000 women's names - and the additional Women's Caucus list of 500 carefully screened economists, lawyers, professors, state government officials - the "good ol' boy network" was often operating in the selection of women. For example, Steinem asked Kirbo just how he went about finding women for the administration. "I call up Tom Watson," Kirbo said, referring to the president of IBM. Steinem responded. "Tom Watsonknows two women - Kay Graham (head of The Washington Post Co.) and Jane Cahill Pfeiffer" (the former IBM vice president who turned down Secretary of Commerce for health and family reasons.)

The meeting with Kirbo and Carter did some good. Hamilton Jordan started between the Women's National Political Caucus and Cabinet members are now ongoing. "We are pushing at least for second echelon positions," says Jane McMichaels of the caucus.

Several on the caucus list have been announced or are under serious consideration for important positions - such as Mary Frances Berry, chancellor of the University of Colorado, who has been contacted for a top-level job at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Others have not been contacted or feel they have had "pro forma" interviews.

Still others, as have men, have turned down the jobs for personal reasons - and because they feel they are overqualified for the jobs that are left.

Economist Alice Rivin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, says, "I made it clear from the outset that the only job I was interested in was Secretary of HEW or OMB."

"The really hot shot jobs are gone," says Julia Montgomery Walsh, a wealthy stockbroker who was under consideration for Secretary of Commerce. "For us who have done well in business, it is a real sacrifice unless we feel we can make a real contribution. For me to get all lost down there as deputy assistant secretary of whatever doesn't make sense."

She reiterated a point made my many women interviewed. "Those men seem to have the attitude that 'we're giving you women an appointment and you should be grateful and don't talk about sacrifice.' I don't think they do that with the men."

Walsh, vice chairman of the board of Ferris and Co., has been on the economic task force of the Democratic Party and an adviser to the Democratic Finance Committee. Her one drawback for Commerce, according to Carter advisers, was that she had not run a large corporation or agency. Feminists counter by asking, what large corporations or agencies have the following designated Cabinet members run: Reps. Brock Adams or Bob Bergland, Ray Marshall, University of Texas economist; Joseph Califano, Washington lawyer and former domestic adviser to President Johnson?

While the Democratic women feel more cheered with the increased number of women in secondary positions, "The net result is that women who should have been Cabinet-level are now second and third level, like Patsy Mink," says Steinem. Rep. Pat Schroeder adds, "Patsy could have been Interior Secretary or any number of things." (She will be an assistant secretary of state). "And to pick a Griffin Bell over a Barbara Jordan is mind blowing. The women are getting all lower level stuff. It is just depressing."

Arvonne Fraser, wife of Minnesota Rep. Don Fraser and active in the Women's Equity Action League, sees three problems in the hiring of women for top-level jobs.

"Men don't normally go out seeking women for top positions; all their life socialization is against it. Two, men aren't used to being turned down by women and when some women do turn them down, they project a 'few' into a 'lot' and stop looking for women. Three, the women tend not to be aggressive enough."

Last week, Fraser met with Secretary of Labor-designate Marshall, an "Excellent choice," she feels. They had a far-ranging talk on women in the labor force, but he offered her no specific job. Fraser's job hunting sessions with him came about partly "because I called up and asked if I could see him. You have to be aggressive about these things."

But not too aggressive. The outspoken former New York Rep. Bella Abzug - who staved off a battle among women delegates at the Democratic National Convention by extolling the sincerity of Carter on women's rights - was successfully silenced as a dissenter of Cabinet choices.

Uncharacteristically, she said nothing as she waited for the phone to ring, believing she still was in contention for something. Top Carter aides now say she was not ever seriously in the running "because everyone says she is not a good administrator. There was just no choice between her and Brock Adams for Transportation." Others feel the real reason was that she was regarded as too abrasive and aggressive.

The women who met with Carter told him how "demoralizing" it was to hear him emphasize in a public statement that some women would not give up higher salaried positions or uproot their families to move to Washington. They feel Carter exaggerated a negative aspect. It is a theme reiterated by some Cabinet designers. Califano has said in private that this is a problem, although Dorothy Ross, a professor on leave from Princeton University who is helping recruit for HEW, says that of those she has contacted she has found it no more of a problem with women than men.

The disappointment among women this year stems, in part, from their perceptions of what they thought a politician was saying. Carter's rhetoric on equality for women, his establishment of a women's advisory committee, the setting up of a "talent bank" from which to cull top women, led many Democratic women down the Great Expectations path.

Looking over Carter's promises, one must admit they have been translated literally. He has not wavered on pushing for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and to end sex discrimination. Feminists appalled at his choice of Califano for HEW - a man who vigorously opposes federal funds for abortions and would seek to cut such provisions from a national health bill - should have listened to Carter, who said the same thing last September.

Those women advisers Carter said a few months ago would speak to him on the war and the economy and act as "talent scouts" for the new administration were asked to say nothing. There is across-the-board disillusionment among women on the transition team and the advisory committee about their non-roles, the indifference of Hamilton Jordan to their abilities.

But in six weeks or so, when all the appointments are made down through supergrade level, there will be more women in the subcabinet positions than ever. "The women are panicking too soon," says Jordan. "When it's all over they may not give us an A, but they'll give us at least a C plus or B minus," he predicted.

Others think the final grade might be more like a D plus. Unquestionably, the record will be better than before but as one aide said, "when you start from zero, it isn't hard to be the 'best.'"

(At HEW, which is regarded as one of the best agencies in hiring women, of 745 on supergrade and executive level, only 47 are women.)

The two White House slots for women are viewed by some women on the Carter transition as "created" affirmative action posts, designed to be meaningless. "It's really up to how hard the women want to fight for a voice," said an important member of the transition team, who feels that much of what happened for women so far is window dressing.

The aide recalls one of the meetings between members of the women's caucus and a designated Cabinet member, as well as the well-publicized fact that Carter had instructed his Cabinet appointees to hire women.

The Cabinet member-designate sat through the meeting, nodding reassuringly as they urged him to hire women for policymaking posts, but there was one hitch. He had already picked his stop staff - all male advisers.