1838 - First graduating class of Oberlin, including the Fairchild brothers (later presidents of Oberlin and Berea), as well as M. E. Strieby, who heads the AMA in the 1870s and 1880s.
1846 - American Missionary Association is founded.
1848 - John G. Fee is commissioned by the American Missionary Association (AMA), primarily as a founder of 'free' churches and as an anti-slavery missionary.
1855 - Fee proposes in The American Missionary a "good school in central Kentucky, which would be to Kentucky what Oberlin is to Ohio. . . .” If not a college to “. . . even a good Academy, and offer facilities for an education to the young men and women, in the mountainous and non-slaveholding districts. . ."
1857 - J. A. R. Rogers is commissioned as a missionary to the AMA.
1858 - Fee and Rogers travel widely in "the hill country" and report their observations. Rogers wrote in The Independent: "At this place (Berea) is located the Berea School, which has for its object to afford the facilities of education to the mountain people, and especially to supply them with competent teachers."
1866-70s - Berea College is founded as one of many African American colleges and universities around the nation that were supported by and associated with the AMA including Fisk, Howard, Atlanta, and seven others.
1867 - The first College catalog (1866-67) describes the people of eastern Kentucky and other mountainous parts of the South as lacking in educational opportunity and in need of education:
It is needed scarcely less for the loyal white people of the mountainous portion of Eastern Kentucky and the similar regions in other States adjoining, not a few of whom are eager to secure its advantages. The "hill country" of Eastern Kentucky alone, upon the confines of which Berea is situated, has an area equal to that of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, and though occupied by hardy and loyal men, is singularly destitute of educational advantages, which hitherto in the South have been monopolized by the wealthy class of planters. Several of these counties, not far from Berea, sent more men to the Union army, than were subject to military service. Can any part of the North show so good a record? Now that these men, "their ideas enlarged and energies developed by the War, are asking for the key of knowledge, their wants must be met. Having periled their lives for the Union, the least their grateful countrymen can do, is to give them those Christian Seminaries necessary to the full development of their manhood.
To accomplish its' educational aims, Berea College encompasses several levels of education including College, Normal, Preparatory, and three elementary levels: Primary, Intermediate, and Grammar. Until 1892, the emphasis remained beneath the collegiate level.