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The Guests Who Almost Did Not Come

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THE 108th renewal of the Gridiron's white-tie dinner was particularly eventful: Helen Thomas, White House correspondent for United Press International, presided over the gathering as the club's first woman president.

After long years of annually poking fun at the nation's leaders, the Gridiron Club looks to some outsiders like an unshakable institution. Yet, back in the early 1970s this organization of journalists was under siege and shaking because of the "Men Only" sign it had pinned on its door. Women on picket lines greeted the guests as they entered the Capital Hilton Hotel. Editorial criticism came from all around the country. And some prominent officials, charging discrimination, declined invitations.

Then on Feb. 7, 1975, the Gridiron elected Ms. Thomas as its first woman member. The club also expanded its membership and began to give special consideration to possible women members.

Today, as the dinner guests the other night could plainly see, women have made highly visible progress in the organization. Taking note of this, the males in the Gridiron chorus, all gussied up as women, expressed their deference to the "newcomers" as they sang to the tune of "There is Nothing Like a Dame":

"Having women in the Gridiron has made it a better club.

"And if you think we're groveling -

"Believe it, bub!"

The women in the chorus responded with a song that gaily made one resounding point: "We want more!"

The club faced a new challenge this year. The Clinton administration, filled with Arkansans and other outsiders who aren't about to bow down to established Washington traditions, decided for a while that it wouldn't allow its big shots to attend the spring dinner. It took the position that such a gathering involved inappropriate schmoozing by government officials with publishers and reporters. It appeared that this boycott would send the affair into a tailspin. But, almost at the last minute, the Clinton

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