New Hampshire Glossary: Operative

The ”Mill Girl” statue was created in 1988 by Antoinette Schultze and commemorates the active role women played in the Amoskeag Mills of Manchester NH. She would have been considered an “operative.” This statue is located in the Amoskeag Millyard of Manchester next to the Stark Mill. Photograph by Normand Boulanger, 1988. Manchester Historic Association Collection. Used with Permission.

The term operative was used in several ways during New Hampshire’s history. In 1762 lye was said to be an operative, while in 1785 the poison of a rattlesnake was described as being operative, each meaning they had a strong effect.

The New Hampshire Mercury newspaper of 1787 mentions ‘operative workmen,’ the first time that I see the term connected with the working class. By the 1800s and the advent of the giant textile mills and other mass production industries in New Hampshire, the male and females workers who were trained to use manufacturing equipment were called “operatives.”

This term can be found frequently in both the local resident directories of the 19th and early 20th century, and on birth, marriage and death records listed as a profession.In 1845 the Association of Factory Operatives formed.  This group worked toward better conditions in the mills and factories.

Though the term seems to have lost favor in the United States, it is still used today in the UK as “Production Operative.” The modern American term (operative) is most commonly used to describe an agent working for an intelligence agency as a profession.


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One Response to New Hampshire Glossary: Operative

  1. Michael says:

    Interesting. I haven’t come across this term, I don’t think anyway, in my research. Good to learn!

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