If the Equal Rights Amendment is not ratified by three more states by next summer, the ERA will stand defeated - a fact that should send ''a horrible message throughout the country,'' says Jennifer Jackman. Miss Jackman is part of a group of 1,000 new recruits volunteering to work through the National Organization for Women this year to ''see that ERA is passed,'' she says.
The young woman has taken off from her last year in school ''because I just can't imagine sitting up at Smith (College) and not doing anything. If ERA isn't passed now, it won't be passed for the rest of the century, I think - and that would be a crime.''
As part of a campus recruiting force, Miss Jackman recently spent six weeks in the New England area, signing up volunteers. Her efforts, along with others, uncovered 600 college students across the nation willing to work either on campus or in designated states to ''educate the public about the ERA.''
Not everyone was receptive. ''We ran into one man in Rhode Island who told us he'd just written a paper proving that women are biologically inferior to men, and therefore should be paid less,'' she recalls. ''We just laughed him off.''
But the tour left her with a ''positive feeling about the women's movement - I can see a core of feminist activists on every campus, a women's network just waiting to be developed,'' she says.
The network of volunteers is 85 percent female, she says. ''Men share our convictions that we need equality in this country.''
One such man is Eric Willard, a doctoral student at Oregon State University who volunteered to work one year for the ERA in exchange for ''a roof over my head, three meals a day, and a sturdy pair of shoes.'' NOW provides room, board, and a small stipend for such full-time workers.
So Mr. Willard started off last summer as a ''missionary'' in Utah - part of a program NOW introduced to counter certain members of a religious group in that state who have been working against the Equal Rights Amendment. The NOW missionaries are sent out in groups of two, going door to door and talking about what the ERA will mean to each household.
Other states, impressed by the missionaries' early success, started asking for the same service, and NOW missionaries are starting to work in Florida and Oklahoma.
Mr. Willard served his term as missionary with the person who started his feminist thinking - his mother. ''She would explain some of the legal hassles she faced as a single parent without child support,'' he recalls, ''and finish by saying, 'I think my kids turned out pretty well - see? This is my baby.' ''
As the youngest of three, Mr. Willard says he saw firsthand ''some of the problems women face in this country.'' The family pulled together to put his mother through night school; ''the kids were totally responsible for the home. I was the living room person, cleaned the bathroom, made chocolate chip cookies, did my share.''
Having to observe the effects of discrimination shaped his thinking, he says. ''I've seen (his mother) hurt, I didn't appreciate it, and I want to work to prevent it happening to other women.''
The work going on in Oklahoma has ''a very, very good chance'' of getting the ERA ratified in that state, he maintains. But should the amendment fail, he says , ''we will never quit. In a country built on the basis of equality, it is only right that women's equality should be protected and preserved.''