Washington — She is tiny and pretty and likes to wear pearls, a mother who talks fondly of her toddler daughter and their mornings together. In speeches and articles she is always referred to as the Republican Kathy Wilson, with her position as chair of the 50,000-member National Women's Political Caucus added almost as an aside.
The caucus, started during the heyday of the women's movement to promote feminist candidates in government, still carries a slight radical tinge, and Ms. Wilson's Republicanism is seen there as a badge of courage - or a token. ''Roughly 35 percent of our members are Republican,'' she explains. ''We need members from both parties to generate candidates.
''I think the notion that there is only one pro-women party is shortsighted and politically naive,'' she says. ''It is exactly those women who are deserting the Republican Party who are hurting our chances the most,'' she says, referring to a recent poll that found an 11 percent shift among women from the Republican to the Democratic Party label.
''What we have to learn is that women haven't gotten what we should from either party. After all, all but one of the (Equal Rights Amendment's) unratified states are headed by Democrats - it was a Republican who introduced the ERA and the Republicans who first put ERA on their platform. And in 1978, 63 of the 68 new legislative seats picked up by women across the country were picked up by Republicans.''
Still, she is particularly critical of Ronald Reagan, whose administration she sees as ''alarmingly insensitive to women and their children.'' Yet she plans to remain a Republican like her parents and encourages other women to do so. ''Besides, it's not easy switching parties - it's like switching countries, '' she says. ''Your old friends desert you; your new friends don't trust you. It's better to stay and work from within.'' Encouraging women to run for office
What she has been working on since her two-year term as head of the caucus began last year is a mass recruiting effort designed to increase the number of female state legislators from 12 to 15 percent. In the last nine months she has visited 30 states, talking with those women who have ''proven credentials in the community, who have helped men get elected, or served in other community ways. I ask them if they've ever given any thought to running themselves. Most of them are quite surprised and say, 'No, no one's ever asked me.' ''
Her speaking engagements also take her to Junior League meetings and homemaker clubs, with the conviction that ''feminists should stop talking just with each other.'' There, she says, she's been delighted to meet numbers of ''bright, aware, community-oriented people who have never given a thought to running for office.''
By ''running,'' Ms. Wilson emphasizes, she means ''a whole range of activities'' - everything from registering to vote (half of the women in this country are not registered, she says) to volunteering for two hours on a Saturday, to mounting and running a successful campaign. Spending time with family
On these trips, Ms. Wilson carries her speeches and her daughter, Casey Rose, in an arrangement she says she and her assistant ''have down to a science - we know all about finding cribs and highchairs in strange cities.'' This gives her more time to spend with the tot, she says, since ''I may have only one or two speeches to give in a day - the rest of the time we can spend together.''
Her daughter, in turn, has developed into a seasoned traveler, fastening her own seat belt on airplanes and looking forward to meeting her new hosts. ''We often stay with other caucus members, where she enjoys playing with the children ,'' says Ms. Wilson. ''The caucus members seem to like seeing us together, too.''
At home, husband Paul Wilson - whom she describes as a ''really fine man who knows the value of a happy wife'' - helps out with the grocery shopping and household chores that tend to slide in hectic lives. A full-time housekeeper fills in the rest of the day-to-day requirements, so Ms. Wilson can spend what little free time she has playing with her daughter. Commitment to women's issues
Her days at the office typically don't start until 11, ''but I'm often here until 11 or 12 at night, so I don't feel guilty about coming in late,'' she says. What drives her to these long hours is her commitment to women's issues, born of a flagrant discrimination against her on her first job.
Here's how she tells it: ''I was working in hotel sales and was asked to train two men for the job. Then I found out they were each making $100 a week more than I was.'' Astonished, she confronted the personnel manager who told her , ''Well, after all, they are men. And this was in 1974 - not exactly the Dark Ages.''
She quit that job and spent a year working for the Equal Rights Amendment with Carolyn Bond, wife of the governor of Missouri, the state where she had received her master's degree in career counseling. She also did a stint at the Department of Labor, researching the role of women in the workplace, before joining the National Women's Political Caucus, where she served first for two years as Republican vice-chair.
She wishes all women were in a position to serve the women's movement as she does, but says she is ''grateful for any amount of time a woman can give. I'm a pragmatist - I don't expect most women to sacrifice everything for their sisters. But it would be nice if they could give two hours on a Saturday.'