"Behind every great man is a great woman” is an old saying of unknown authorship. The following was cited in many newspapers in 1884:
“There has nearly always been a good wife behind every great man; and there is a good deal of truth in the saying that a man can be no greater than his wife will let him.”
“Behind every great man is a great woman, his mother” was cited in 1886. “Behind every great man is a great woman” was cited in 1902.
“Behind every successful woman is herself” is a related saying from the 1980s.
22 October 1884, The Weekly Register (Point Pleasant, WV), “Pearls of Thought,” pg. 1 col. 6:
There has nearly always been a good wife behind every great man; and there is a good deal of truth in the saying that a man can be no greater than his wife will let him.
Christianity, the Key to the Character and Career of Washington
By Philip Slaughter
Washington, DC: Judd and Detweiler, printers
But it was the peculiar felicity of Washington to have a devout Christian mother, the greatest blessing God gives to man. Some one has said that behind every great man is a great woman, his mother.
18 December 1897, The Evening Star (Washington, DC), pg. 27, col. 7 ad:
Behind every great man you will find a great mother. behind every great man you will find a healthy mother.
(Dr. Pierce’s Common Sense Medical Adviser.—ed.)
18 February 1902, The Times (Washington, DC), “Woman Suffragists Hear Foreign Guests,” pg. 4, col. 4:
The last speaker of the evening was Fraulein Antoine Stolle, whose subject was “Women in Germany.”
“Behind every great man is a great woman,” said Fraulein Stolle.
19 June 1908, Muskogee (OK) Cimeter, pg. 1, col. 3:
This is what makes success in any line of business, behind every great man is a noble woman.
10 June 1910, The Mahoning Dispatch, pg. 7, col. 3:
Some one has said, “Behind every great man there is a great woman.”
31 October 1912, Bradford (PA) Era, “Who will be mistress of the White House?”, pg. 6, col. 3:
She (Mrs. William Howard Taft—ed.) has made him worthy to be president, has pushed him up the path, for “behind every great man is a great woman.”
December 1917, Hardware World, “Your Best Business Partner For 1918,” pg. 72:
“BEHIND every great man there is some good woman” is a well known saying, and it is just as true today, or even more so, as it was when it was uttered.
27 March 1921, The Sunday Oregonian (Portland, OR), “The Literary Periscope” by Ethel R. Sawyer, sec. 5, pg. 3:
“Behind every great man is a clever woman”—you can add similar apt quotations ad lib.
The Medical World
I often think of the old shop-worn aphorism, “Behind every great man is a greater woman.”
20 Stories Of The Women Behind Great Men
17th December 2014
‘Behind every great man is a great woman’ – we’ve all heard that old expression. There’ve been countless jokes and parodies based on it: from the meddling mother and nagging wife jokes to the alteration ‘behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.’ But jokes aside, there’s another way of looking at it: literally behind that great man is a woman overshadowed by his reputation and defined solely as his wife, mother, sister or daughter.
OCLC WorldCat record
Behind every great man : the forgotten women behind the world’s famous and infamous
Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller
Publisher: Naperville, Illinois : Sourcebooks, 
Edition/Format: Print book : Biography : English
From ancient times to the present, men have gotten most of the good ink. Discover the women who put the world’s alpha-males on the map-- the overlooked wives and companions who are just as instrumental in shaping the destinies of their famous-- and infamous-- men. Wagman-Geller introduces you to forty captivating females who have stood behind their legendary partners and helped to humanize them, often at the cost of their own careers, reputations, and happiness