The Fletcher School was founded in 1933 with the bequest of Austin Barclay Fletcher, who left over $3 million to Tufts University upon his death in 1923. A third of these funds were dedicated to a school of law and diplomacy. 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 embraces within it as a fundamental and 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."
The school opened in 1933 as a collaborative project between Harvard University and Tufts. One of the first buildings acquired was Goddard Hall which was converted into a library. Tufts assumed exclusive responsibility for the administration of The Fletcher School in 1935, but the school maintains close ties with Harvard. Fletcher students can register for graduate classes at Harvard, and conversely, graduate students at Harvard can register for courses at Fletcher. In addition, the Fletcher School has strong relationships, including joint and dual degree programs, with several other universities around the metro Boston area and throughout the world. The two-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) is the Fletcher School’s "flagship" international affairs degree.
The Fletcher School and Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) are the only non-law schools in the US that compete in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.
The school’s dean is Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy (retired), former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and former head of the U.S. European Command. Admiral Stavridis received a MALD degree and a Ph.D. from The Fletcher School in 1983 and 1984, respectively. He became the 12th dean of the school on July 1, 2013.
On its campus in Medford, Massachusetts, The Fletcher School offers multi-disciplinary instruction in international affairs through several master's degree programs and a Ph.D. program. Regardless of the degree program in which they are enrolled, students have the opportunity to select from among more than 170 courses across three divisions: International Law and Organization (ILO); Diplomacy, History and Politics (DHP); and Economics and International Business (EIB).