Fletcher History

The Fletcher School was created at the bequest of Dr. Austin Barclay Fletcher, a member of Tufts’ Class of 1876, who donated $1 million towards the establishment and maintenance of a school of law and diplomacy at Tufts. In the fall of 1933, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy opened its doors to the 21 members of its inaugural class. When it did so, in the midst of the Great Depression and with the collaboration of Harvard University, The Fletcher School became the first graduate-only school of international affairs in the United States.

Goddard HallEntrance to Goddard Hall, 1939

A corporation lawyer in New York City for most of his career, Dr. Fletcher was a dedicated alumnus of both Tufts College and Boston University Law School. He served on the board of trustees of both schools, and even served as president of the Tufts board from 1913 until his death in 1923.

Dr. Fletcher’s devotion to Tufts was the prime interest of his later life, as indicated by his bequest to the college of more than $3 million, a third of which was earmarked for the creation of a school of law and diplomacy at Tufts. His gift provided not only the financial support but also the legal impetus for creating a school that did not try to mimic traditional professional schools of law or business:

[Fletcher] did not have in mind a school "of the usual kind, which prepares men for admission to the bar and for the active practice of law." Instead, Fletcher envisioned "a school to prepare men for the diplomatic service and to teach such matters as come within the scope of foreign relations [which] embraces within it as a fundamental a thorough knowledge of the principles of international law upon which diplomacy is founded, although the profession of a diplomat carries with it also a knowledge of many things of a geographic and economic nature which affect relations between nations..1

While providing basic direction for the establishment of The Fletcher School, Dr. Fletcher left a number of details up to the discretion of Tufts College. Not surprisingly, many of the decisions associated with the new school landed squarely on the shoulders of Tufts President John Albert Cousens. But rather than simply overseeing the project, President Cousens spent years championing it. According to Fletcher’s Dean Robert B. Steward, "on more than one occasion his energy and ability were the key factors in determining the future of the School.” Indeed,

While Dr. Fletcher provided the endowment and the inspiration, it thus remained for others after him to give life to the idea by determining the nature of content of the program and bringing the School into existence and operation. In this work the principal role was played by President John A. Cousens.2

President Cousens worked tirelessly to realize the goal of Dr. Fletcher, but he did not work alone. He was assisted by administrators and faculty from both Tufts College and Harvard University, who played significant roles in establishing and administering the school during its early years.

Fletcher HallFletcher Hall [Blakeley Hall], 1926

Of particular note was the role played by Dean Roscoe Pound of Harvard Law School. President Cousens first turned to Dean Pound, a world-renowned legal scholar, for advice and information during the initial stages of the school’s creation. Dean Pound offered his assistance and in turn opened a dialogue between President Cousens and Harvard University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell.

After the final concept for the school was presented to and approved by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1930, Presidents Cousens and Lowell and Dean Pound decided to establish The Fletcher School as a joint venture between Tufts College and Harvard University. The agreement led to joint administration of the school for its first year, however was rewritten in 1934 when the original charter failed to satisfy both parties. The new agreement left Tufts as the sole administrator of The Fletcher School, but maintained shared library privileges and course registration with Harvard.

Dr. Halford Lancaster Hoskins, Dickson Professor of English and American History and chairman of Tufts’ Department of History, served as acting dean when the school first opened, and continued to serve as full-fledged dean from 1934 to 1944. All other members of Fletcher’s first faculty, with the exception of Professor George H. Blakeslee of Clark University, were full-time members of the Harvard Law School faculty. In the years to follow, Fletcher’s own full-time faculty would take the place of the original faculty members, most of whom taught at the school for only one or two years. However, Dean Pound served on the Fletcher faculty from 1933 to 1963, and Professor Blakeslee taught until 1943. Professor George Grafton Wilson taught at Fletcher until his retirement in 1936.

The road to the school’s opening was a long and arduous one, primarily because of its administrators’ desire to carefully plan the school’s program and curriculum. But when the school opened its doors in October 1933, most of the major hurdles had been overcome:

Austin Fletcher’s dream had finally come true. It was, in Cousens’ enthusiastic language, a "magnificent start” which seemed "incredible.” … The prospects of The Fletcher School looked promising indeed. With a uniquely valuable library of great renown and one of the most distinguished faculties that could have been assembled, the school might not only become the center of interest in international affairs in the Northeast but could serve the community of nations on a scale well outside the boundaries of the United States.3

More than 75 years have passed since it opened, yet The Fletcher School remains true to its original mission: to offer a broad professional education in international relations to students committed to maintaining the stability and prosperity of a complex, challenging and increasingly global society. This is due in no small part to the continued support and investment of Fletcher’s alumni, students, faculty and friends who champion the school’s internationalist approach.

Today, The Fletcher School enrolls an average of 330 students per year from the United States and more than 40 countries around the world. Fletcher alumni are presently living and working in more than 130 countries and are engaged in careers in national governments and international organizations, business, banking, journalism, education, international research and other private and public pursuits.

  1. Russell E. Miller, Light on the Hill: A History of Tufts College 1852-1952 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), 571.
  2. Robert B. Stewart, History of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy: The First Fifteen Years (The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, February 1975, photocopy)
  3. Miller, 592.