Bryn Athyn College Alumni Magazine Fall/Winter 2017-18 - Page 13

Wertha Pendleton Cole OUR HISTORY Lyris Hyatt Morna Hyatt (BA '40) Kurt Simons (AA '60) Wertha Pendleton Cole Wertha Pendleton Cole, a noted teacher and astronomer, was born on January 18, 1891 as the youngest daughter to Lawson (Mary) Pendleton and William F. Pendleton, the founding bishop of the General Church. Wertha received her Bachelor of Science from Columbia University in 1914. As part of her graduate work at the University of Virginia, in 1917-1918, she did parallax ob- servations at the McCormick Observatory during World War I, during which she actually found a new star. She was a member of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society from 1935 to 1959, serv- ing as its secretary 1950-1951. Alfred Sandstrom (AA '60) (right) plots data, while Kurt Simons (left) mans the two-way radio. The First Sighting All this practice proved crucial on October 4, 1957, when Russia surprised the world by launching Sputnik I, the world’s first satellite. National ob- servatories across the U.S. were caught off guard by the sudden launch, and urgently relied on citizen-scientists to help gather information. Wer- tha received notice about the launch from Moonwatch headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Quickly alerting her team, they took their places on Benade Hall’s roof. Kenneth explained, “Peering into the wide lens was not unfamiliar to anyone by now, but the real challenge of something to see added a new ex- cite ment. Team members began to appreciate that Mrs. Cole had felt that same challenge a whole year earlier.” He added, “Mrs. Cole’s keen interest in science in general and astronomy in particular … led us to readiness that few teams enjoyed at that time.” They didn’t see anything that first night, or the next, but finally on October 15, before dawn, they saw something: the rocket that put Sput- nik I into orbit. The following day, on October 16, the team recorded evi- dence of Sputnik I itself. Records of that night report that Wertha called out, “I see something overhead!” The team was already at work with careful tracking. As Ken- neth noted, “Mrs. Cole checked its positions as it passed through the constellations overhead and plotted its course on star charts for measure- She served as the dean of women at Bryn Athyn College from 1946 to 1956 and also headed the astronomy department and organized the Bryn Athyn team for Operation Moonwatch. At the time she died, she had four children and 14 grandchildren. Her nephew, Lawson Pend- leton, taught at the College during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Wertha saw a strong connection between spiritual insight and stargazing. In a lecture she gave in 1935 she said, “Looking at the stars is an inspiration in itself, and it lifts the imagination beyond the material things of everyday life toward a philosophy of creation.” B RY N AT H Y N A LU M N I M AG A Z I N E | 13