Meg Greenfield of The Washington Post won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing yesterday and The New York Times became the first newspaper to win three Pulitzer awards in a single year.

The Philadelphia Inquirer won the public service award for a series of articles detailing police abuses, and Gaylord Shaw of the Los Angeles Times won the prize for national reporting for articles on unsafe conditions at the nation's major dams written after the collapse of the Teton Dam in June, 1976.

Greenfield, the deputy editor of the Post's editorial page, was given her award for a group of editorials on a wide range of subjects including civil rigths, the press and international affairs.

The New York Times won the awards for commentary, international reporting and criticism:

William Safire won for his commentaries on the personal and professional banking practices of Bert Lance, then director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Safire's July 21 column, "Carter's Broken Lance," and five succeeding ones detailing Lance's personal and professional banking practices were instrumental in focusing attention on Lance, who subsequently resigned as President Carter's budget chief.

Henry Kamm's international reporting prize was for his many articles on the Indochinese who fled their homelands by boat and found no other nation to take them in. These "boat people" sailed and drifted into ports around Asia followin the defeat of the American-backed governments in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Walter Kerr won the criticism prize for the body of his work. He has written Sunday reviews and comments for the Times since 1967. Before that, he has the drama critic for the New York Herald Tribune for 15 years.

The other journalism awards announced yesterday by Columbia University President William J. McGill on the recommendation of the Pulitzer Prize advisoru board went to:

Richard Lee Strout of the Christian Science Monitor and the New Republic, a special citation for distinguished commentary.

Richard Whitt of the Louisville Courier-Journal for general local news reporting for his coverage of a fire that killed 164 people at a Southgate, Ky., nightclub.

Anthony R. Dolan of the Stamford (Conn.) Advocate for special local reporting for a series on municipal corruption.

Jeff MacNelly of the Richmond News Leader for editorial cartooning. It was MacNelly's second pulitzer.

Jim Schweiker of United Press International for spot news photography.

J. Ross Baughman of Associated Press for feature photography.

The Pulitzer advisory board also created a new category for future prizes - feature writing. The award will be given to "a distinguished example of feature writing giving prime consideration to high literary quality and originality."

Like all the Pulitzer prizes except the public service award, the new prize will carry a $1,000 award.The public service winner gets a gold medal.

A collection of short stories by James Alan McPherson, "Elbow Room" and Donald L. Coburn's play, "The Gin Game," won the Pulitzer prizes for fiction and drama respectively.

McPhersons's stories, published by Atlantic Littel Brown, explore the American black experience. Coburn's play concerns the two inmates in an old-age home.

Walter Jackson Bate won the biography prize for his "Samuel Johnson." It was Bate's second Pulitzer and the committee, apparently tired of making exceptions, struck the language from the prize rules that the biographies should be "preferably on an American subject." Bate won first for "John Keats."

Greenfield joined The Post in 1968 after 11 years with the Reporter Magazine where she began as a researcher and ended as an editor. Since 1974, Greenfield has written a column for Newsweek in addition to her writing for The Post.

The other 1978 prizes were:

A special citation to E. B. White for the full body of his work.

History - "The Visible Hand:" The Managerial Revolution in American Business" by Alfred D. Chandler Jr.

Poetry - Collected Poems by Howard Nemerov.

General Non-Fiction - "The Dragons of Eden" by Carl Sagan.

Music - "Deja Vu for Percussion Quartet and Orchestra" by Michael Colgrass.